The Know-It-All Attitude

Nothing gets my dander up more quickly than the Know-It-All attitude. Child or adult, friend or total stranger, I find this attitude prideful, self-serving, and downright ugly. The Know-It-All wants to be better than everyone else in the room and wants everyone else in the room to know he is better. Sometimes the attitude surfaces only briefly; at other times it is a full-time occupation.

The Know-It-All has a self-imposed learning disability — he has chosen to block his mind from learning from anyone. No one can instruct or correct the Know-It-All, because he already knows and will be the first to tell you. No matter what fact you present to the Know-It-All, his response is always the same, “I know.” Even when you can be certain that he could not know and does not know, the Know-It-All still responds in the same matter-of-fact, yet superior, way, “I know.”

When my children began to display the Know-It-All attitude, we stopped everything and had a serious heart-to-heart discussion. Okay, it was more of a one-sided lecture, but I got my point across. “You did not know,” was my calmly delivered opener. “Why do you think you told me that you did know?” — a mostly rhetorical question, followed by my explanation of how we let pride take over our minds and try to make ourselves look smarter than we actually are. The desired result was that my children would recognize and admit to learning new things, no matter who was providing the information. We can learn from anyone and everyone, and the more we learn, the smarter we become. I do not gain any intelligence by falsely declaring myself to be in possession of a fact.

The next misstep, which falls close on the heels of the Know-It-All attitude of pride, is jealousy. How I get sickened when I see a parent who does not want his child to excel past the parent’s abilities. This sounds completely ludicrous — parents not wanting success for their children — but I have seen it over and over. I have caught myself in the thought pattern, severely reprimanded myself for it, and then taken steps to help my child progress even farther.

My son wanted to learn to play guitar. I dug out my old “beginner” guitar, showed him how to read a chord chart, and gave him some basic instructions on technique and a few simple worship songs to try. Then I stepped out of his way and let him try it on his own. After a few false starts, he began having success. I gave him a better guitar — success should be rewarded with a quality instrument. Eventually, he and the guitar became like Siamese twins, joined fingertips to fretboard. When he goes to his room just to retrieve a book, and I hear a few bars of sweet guitar music before he returns. His ability has quickly exceeded mine, and I think of myself as a fairly good player. He has taught himself to read tablature found on the internet for his favorite CD songs. He has learned to finger-pick complicated rhythms just by listening to them and trying. He absolutely impressed the socks off me last Christmas by picking “Carol of the Bells” for us after dinner! CAROL OF THE BELLS!!!

It has been tempting at times to become jealous of his ability. I could reprimand him for spending “too much time” on guitar and not enough time on his schoolwork, except that he does get the schoolwork done also. I could have made him buy his own guitar, rationalizing that he would “appreciate it more” if he had worked for it and earned it himself. I could point out his mistakes and ridicule him for not having each piece perfect when he plays for me. I could so easily completely destroy his love of music. Which is exactly what happens when jealousy is given a foothold. Instead, I have sat under his tutelage and allowed him to show me new chords. We have played together, laughing with delight as I struggled to keep up with his flying fingers.

My daughter and I have engaged in theological discussions in which we share new perspectives on familiar passages of scripture. However, the Know-It-All attitude often dances through my mind as she is explaining her latest insight. I must fight against pride to remind myself that I definitely do not know all there is to know, especially about the Bible. Humbly, I remind myself that I can learn from any situation, from any person. I turn my back on jealousy and remind myself to pay attention to what she is saying… and I learn. She is an adult now and lives in a different city, in a different cultural-mix, and has the benefit of many new experiences from which to teach. If the Know-It-All attitude were allowed to reign, I would miss all of that.

I grew up without encouragement. My family did not express emotions of joy, at least not to us as children. Our accomplishments received a mere nod, if anything at all. Once when I had worked very hard and finally mastered my desired goal, my mother responded with a flat, emotionless “I knew you could do it.” The Know-It-All attitude strikes again. Confidence shattered, excitement crushed, self-esteem ground under the heels of the Know-It-All.

That old race between the tortoise and the hare should teach us a great lesson: the hare was a Know-It-All. Perhaps we could have learned even more if Aesop had continued his story after the Finish Line: did the hare humbly and graciously congratulate the tortoise on his victory, or was the hare ensnared by jealousy and pride?

Knowledge continues to expand and increase as technology advances. None of us knows it all. Each of us can learn something from everyone. None of us is so perfect that he cannot be topped by someone else. We will all benefit from humbling ourselves and seeing every situation as an opportunity for learning.

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