On Parading One’s Knowledge

It is a difficult line to tread, between sharing one’s enthusiasm and parading one’s knowledge. A few months ago I was taken to task for expressing delight in some of the work being done by South American type designers. I made no comment on the suitability of the typefaces for any particular use but found myself drawn into an increasingly grumpy exchange on Twitter where my interlocutor was concerned principally with the accessibility of typefaces, especially online, if I remember correctly. At the end of the exchange, I felt as though I had been lectured well and truly and the person I’d been conversing with declared himself angry and went off for a walk to cool down. It was an example of the way in which sharing an enthusiasm can go horribly wrong if one does not take into account the possibility of its being misunderstood. I regret the misunderstanding and would love to put it right, but once one has got at cross purposes it can be very hard to put things straight. One just has to trust to God that He will deal with it and try to avoid making the same mistake in future. I have not made any comment on typefaces or printing since because I don’t want to upset people.

A similar thing can happen on other Social Media. One makes a small point or comment and someone decides to demonstrate that they know much more than one does oneself, or they expand one’s original comment as though one were completely unaware of any other aspect of the case or had intentionally left something out. My usual response is either to say ‘thank you’ or, if I have some doubts about what is said, to ignore the remark. Unfortunately, I do not always follow my own advice, and I am sure I have caused hurt and misunderstanding at times both by my own comments and by my response to other people’s comments. What can one do in such a situation?

I think there are only two possible responses: a simple ‘sorry’, without, please note, going over the rights and wrongs of the case again. That rarely leads to better understanding. ‘Falling out of faithful friends/Renewing is of love’ perhaps, but one has to be good friends to start with. In any case, I am not suggesting that one should avoid expressing one’s opinions or sharing one’s enthusiasms. I think it is the way we do so that needs a little thought. The second response is more humbling but ultimately a way of gaining deeper insight: to ask oneself why one made the comment in the first place. Was one really sharing an enthusiasm or bolstering one’s own ego by parading one’s knowledge? My own conscience is far from clear on that question. How about you?


14 thoughts on “On Parading One’s Knowledge”

  1. Cringe. Count me in as demonstrating the bane of ego and then being struck hard by a fit of (much needed) conscience. I like to think I’ve gotten better at times because I now frequently type out my know-it-all response and then recognize it really doesn’t add anything to the already difficult situation, so I erase it before it goes live. In that moment just after I hit delete, I experience a wash of relief and gratitude that God has given us the ability to reflect. Exercising that gift feels a lot better than stroking my own ego and comes with far less regrets! That said, I still fail all the time, it’s a daily work in progress. Thank you for this reminder.

  2. Interesting perspective, Dame Catherine. As a teacher (professor), the feed-back from students is that I exhibit “high enthusiasm” about the subjects I teach, but they also appear to resent and be intimidated by my knowledge of the subject matter.

    • It IS difficult, isn’t it, Barbara? In a person-to-person setting, where body language can provide a clue, I think there is less likelihood of misunderstanding, though it is by no means uncommon.

  3. Dear Sister Catherine
    Glad you are back giving clear eyed thoughts. As for me, if you share your enthusiasms or parade your knowledge I can gain from it, so thank you. It sounds quite fascinating that you and another could get into such a pickle over typefaces. Although perhaps I shouldn’t be too glib as in the past I have dug myself into deep holes with you, trying to understand something you have blogged. Again, perhaps, it is not only the way it is done but also they it is received. Your last paragraph, however, is something that would well be worth me giving some thought to…. I am just glad you are back blogging and grateful for the updates from the community whilst you were off line.

  4. Discussions on the internet can be, and continually are, a bit of a challenge. We don’t have facial and body communication going on, just words on the screen. They, of course, can be taken almost any which way. Humility is always a challenge for us, isn’t it? And yet, … I belong to a list called MonasticLife. Though we are quite quiet now, we’ve had our share of disagreements over the years. But we always had some “wise seniors” in our midst as well, whose wisdom assisted us to continue on where other lists would have perished. I am more and more convinced that Christian witness in this day and age has so much to do with respectful discussion and dialogue. I’m over the pond in the US, where our public discussion has denigrated into personal insults and attacks, completely missing the issues at hand, sadly, on a regular, almost daily basis. Perhaps our Benedictine vocation to “Listen with the ear of the heart…” not only applies to listening to the voice of God that continually calls us, but also, allows us to listen, in a non judgmental way, to the voices of others. Tom K

  5. There will always be people who know more – or think they do. Some will see your knowledge as a challenge – usually misogynistic men who are incapable of friendly sharing, in my experience!
    Reading and enjoying your blogs, I can’t imagine that you’d use your knowledge to better or to belittle someone, so please, don’t ever apologise for being you!
    It’s always a joy to share and to grow with someone in friendship, but that takes maturity and openness; a rare commodity these days!

  6. Enthusiasm for any subject is great. Its how we share, its also how we learn, as the perspective of another sheds light on the bits we haven’t seen clearly til now.

    But hectoring, and lecturing has to be divisive, as its ego driven and does not open dialogue.

    The difference at first glance might be hard to differentiate, but the exchange should quickly reveal the underlying disposition.

    Long live dialogue I say, on any and all subjects, but make it a conversation! I dare someone to disagree! LOL

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