In my Catholic upbringing, from a very early age, thanks to the Good Sisters of Charity, who toiled tirelessly at St. Charles to provide me my earliest moral development, I knew about sin, especially those which carried that ominous modifier, “deadly.” According to the standard enumeration, they are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.
As for the first, I also believe there are seven words that those afflicted will never utter: “I may be mistaken” and “I’m wrong.”
This thought occurs to me whenever I spend some extra time with a couple of guys in particular, not by choice, rather necessity, because I have to deal with them while working.
As I listen to their take on all things from the trivial to the vitally important, always delivered with an air of self-assurance that there isn’t a scintilla of doubt as to the unerring accuracy of what they say, I always have to chuckle to myself.
And, the reason for my bemusement is the commonality of mistakes that all of us author on a regular basis. After all, I think that fallibility is as much a part of the human condition as the genetic markers that comprise our DNA.
That becomes painfully obvious to me each month around the 12th day when my bank statement arrives in the mail.
It’s then I take another stab at balancing my checkbook. A combination of a rather cavalier attitude about recording check activity and those automatic withdrawals for utilities and car insurance and such and a long history of what I’ll call numerical anxiety makes the checkbook balancing that so many accomplish with such ease a near impossibility for me.
That anxiety regarding numbers can be traced back to fourth grade when I first discovered that, apparently, some trickster had invented something called long division just when I’d, sort of, gotten the hang of the first division! While words — both spoken and written — have long been my friends, numbers, not so much.
As to the two know-it-alls, using a term that, according to my go-to dictionary Merriam-Webster, dates back to 1873, both are middle-aged, in contrast to my 65 years, which supports one of my favorite theories involving human psychology. And, that is, the older most of us get, the easier it is to say, “I could be wrong.”
I know as a younger dude I was a lot more self-assured. Even in those moments when I, kind of, stepped in it, pride would prevent me from actually admitting that I was in error.
However, after being schooled in a home living with three women for 20 years and having been told how wrong I was on so many occasions, as verification of the tried-and-true bromide that practice makes perfect, I did indeed practice my mistakes with such frequency that I have come to realize on the doorstep of my senior years that the smartest man is often the one who does know what he doesn’t know!
Guys, while there are many reasons why the gift of women was bestowed upon us once upon a time, I sometimes think one of the reasons at the top of the list is there has to be someone here to tell us just how wrong we are most of the time.
My friend Linda Bloomfield asked me recently while I was working a Knights of Columbus bar shift, “What do you call a man with half a brain?” My initial response, one where I named a certain political party, and I won’t say which one so I don’t step on anyone’s toes, she rejected. After I gave up on my attempt to one-up her joke, she delivered her punch line.
“Gifted,” she said with a chortle.
As for how to handle our know-it-alls, much has been written. The simplest solution, as in just walk away when listening to someone who is a self-admitted font of infallibility, isn’t always practical or even possible. For example, if I’m working a bar shift, I’m sort of, trapped.
So, what are other options? In researching a bit, I found a plethora of suggestions, everything from flattering them on their knowledge to get them to stop talking to countering their know-it-all responses with truisms that allow no real room for counterclaims, both of which, for me, require way too much energy.
The best I found was one that works in many instances and can be summed up as follows: Choose the hills upon which to die. In other words, don’t look for ways to point out the rents in their rhetorical fabric and just hope they, sort of, get tired of the sound of their own horns!
While there’s no question that it gets tedious listening to the pontifications of those who feel they’re never wrong, let’s face it. Using a little clinching rhyming couplet, “When it comes to all that hot air, should we really care?”
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.