Knowledge, like last week’s post about beliefs, can cloud our judgment. I grew up hearing that educated people were ‘so smart they’re stupid’. It seems that phrase was often said defensively by people who maybe felt they themselves were under educated. Nevertheless, they have a point, just not quite the one they were trying to make. And it regards something we all do.
Read this sentence: Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.
Now, count the f’s.
Did you count 3? That’s great, you are literate! I bet if you asked a 7 year old to count the f’s, they’d say there
are 6. Does this mean they need to work on memorizing their ABC’S? No, it means you are too smart for your own good.
As that 7 year old is learning to read, she is paying super close attention. As such, she is visually searching each letter to match it to the shape of the letter F and f in her minds eye.
Once we become proficient at reading, such attention to detail becomes cumbersome. Your focus shifts from analyzing each letter, to scanning entire words. Tihs is wehre yuor eudcatoin pyas off. Because chances are, that 7 year old will struggle with that last sentence. In case you missed it, let’s read it again: Tihs is wehre yuor eudcatoin pyas off.
Did you catch it that time? As long as the first and last letter are intact, chances are you’ll read what was intended as: This is where your education pays off.
Once you know something, you can’t unknow it. It becomes difficult to imagine what life or perspectives might be without it. Consider the last time an IT savvy person tried to walk you through something. Or a time you couldn’t keep up with a group conversation as they all seemed to share a crucial piece of knowledge you were clearly missing.
This is a classic case of not seeing the forest through the trees. Your friends knowledge dropped them into the forest where they are discussing a particular tree, while you’re still hovering over the forest trying to see where they are.
In the second reading illustration above, we are more able to empathize with the 7 year old, not because we can discern our own advanced method of reading but because in general, we expect a 7 year old to be less. Less educated, less intelligent, less, less, less. Many find the first reading illustration surprising and a bit disconcerting. If we find it challenging to back down from our immense knowledge to become aware of that 7 year olds brilliance, what else are we missing?
1 + 1 = huh???
When I was in 5th grade, my Mom had to stop helping me with math homework. Not because I’d surpassed her level of education but because she excelled at math and it was like a foreign language to me. She couldn’t see what I couldn’t see. From her perspective, I wasn’t trying. She was convinced that I wasn’t paying attention or taking her lessons seriously. That couldn’t have been further from the truth but I couldn’t follow her instructions if I didn’t know what key words meant or what the ‘rules’ were that she took for granted.
In another personal experience, I was fired after 1 year because my boss and I could not communicate. Being new in her own role and never having had my particular job, she didn’t know how to train me. I did everything I was asked and I tried to intuit what else might need to be done. My 2 co-workers,
who were very experienced, assured me I was doing well. It was apparent to me that nothing I did pleased the boss yet I was at a loss as to why or how to fix the situation. I tried to express my determination to learn by asking more questions. Wrong! I didn’t realize it at the time but she was becoming more and more irritated by the fact that I wasn’t ‘getting it’ as she said the day she fired me. Afterwords, I spoke with one of my co-workers who was heartbroken for me. From her perspective, this all unfolded like a bad movie. She saw the misunderstanding and the unfortunate consequences but the person who mattered couldn’t. My boss didn’t know what I didn’t know. All she could see is that I wasn’t doing my job as well as my co-workers.
Flipping this around, I tend to get really frustrated with perfume wearers. I have chemical sensitivities that have become continually more severe. I’ve spent years suffering and researching the problem and potential solutions. When a lady from 5 feet away gives me a headache and takes my breath, I often conclude that she is selfish and sadistic. Why else would she choose to cause others pain? Whoa!
Back up a second….from my perspective, evidence of chemical sensitivities are all around. It’s such a common thing! But let’s step back and look at the bigger picture. I suffer personally, therefore, I regularly visit allergist offices where this is common knowledge. Over the years, I’ve educated my family as I learned more and more. I have created a bubble everywhere I go, in which those around me are familiar with chemical sensitivities.
When I talk to others outside my bubble, few have ever heard of such a thing. And if they have, they tend to not understand the full extent. I will have people who learn of my issue continue to give me headaches and make me sick with their scented selves or homes or offices. From their perspective, they tried to be thoughtful and didn’t wear perfume or they didn’t run their oil diffuser. From my perspective, I still smell their laundry detergent and hair products and the oils saturating everything in the room from having been diffused daily for months. I have a difficult time seeing what they don’t see.
It was helpful for me to realize how tunnel visioned I was being. It was also painful to consider how rude I’d been to people because I perceived they were first being rude to me. Not only was I rude and hurtful at times but since they likely had no idea what I was talking about, I must have appeared a mad woman! My approach now is to look for teachable moments. I try to educate people in ways that do not cast them as a villain but as someone who couldn’t possible know my situation.