Friday, March 12, 2010

today : a wise man once said...

How do you measure cleverness? Am I clever when I can get the answers on my favourite TV quiz, Only Connect, after seeing only one picture or clue, and when I can unravel the wall within a minute? Am I clever because I have read a lot of books (about one a week since the age of maybe 15) on different topics? Is someone clever when they can memorise stuff (I have a pretty flawless memory in some very narrow areas - other areas I can't remember anything however hard I try)?

Here's the thing. I do think I'm cleverer than most people. I think I've reached a level where I know that actually I know almost nothing, and can change my mind with ease on considering an alternative point of view.

But that's as far as it goes. It only really matters when, for example, people seem to be struggling for the solution to some issue at work and you have a credible solution, except they won't listen to you. I sometimes think that my breadth of knowledge counts against me. Nobody likes a know-it-all. It's threatening when you set yourself up as an expert on something and this everyday non-expert can match, or even outdo you.

When I was teaching I never attended a training event where some expert held forth on their area of expertise without discovering that I either learned nothing or I could have corrected a few inaccuracies. But that isn't hard if you endeavour to keep up with your professional field, read the latest papers and books. Many of these 'experts' have a script that doesn't change from year to year and consequently becomes quickly outdated.

But despite believing that I am clever and that I know the limits of that fact, I have no idea whether I am wise. That's a whole different thing. Certainly, an audit of my personal decisions over the years would lead inevitably to the conclusion that I am certainly not wise at all.

Yet, it seems that some people believe I am. Perhaps they mistake cleverness for wisdom, perhaps they mistake disinterest for dispassionate objectivity. Perhaps they are just desperate.

So periodically people seem to call on me for wisdom which I'm not sure I have. Perhaps the truly wise thing to do is to send messages out that I simply don't want the responsibility of dispensing wisdom, which I don't. But at the same time I always foil such a plan by answering peoples' questions and need for guidance with an honest opinion. If someone is desperate enough to seek my counsel, then the least I can do is to lend an ear. Except, occasionally people take the lend, in the way people take it when you 'lend' them a paperback book or a Lyle Lovett CD.

Without being specific, it almost always ends up causing me stress and a measure of work that I never volunteered for. Relationships, kids, marriages, careers - all topics are apparently within the grasp of of my Solomonesque wisdom. Even though I am not married, am single, have no kids and a stalled career. How do they think I know anything about anything?

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