Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Everyone's An Expert

I Hope, I Think, I Know - Oasis (mp3)
Too Much Information - The Police (mp3)

A few weeks back, I had a group of students over to my house for a meeting and munchies. When I let my dog out to piss, I noticed a very large bird -- a size somewhere between Big Bird and an emperor penguin -- crouched oddly on the hill above our house.

I kind of oohed about it, and a few of the boys followed me out, and what came next was a standard pissing contest of knowledge between males.

"Is it a hawk?" I asked.

"I think it's a falcon," said #1.

"No dumbass, it's not a falcon. Falcons are tiny. It's a hawk or an eagle," said #2.

"It's definitely an eagle. I think it's a blah blah blah Eagle," said #3. (He didn't say "blah blah blah." He said some kind of name of an eagle, but I don't remember it.)

"How would you know?"

"Because I've been a Boy Scout for, like, my whole life and worked part of last summer doing wildlife rehabilitation, you moron."


"So I guess it's an eagle then," I said.

"Is it hurt?" said #1.

"It looks hurt," I said. "It looks very young." (As if I can really tell this. I mean, did I think it looked young because it didn't flash its driver's license? Or because it didn't have enough gray feathers?)

"It's probably young," said Eagle Scout. "And it's not hurt. It caught some prey. That's the kind of position it gets in when it's feeding but scared. It's trying to make itself look bigger to intimidate any perceived threat."

We all looked at each other, and we nodded, and conceded to Eagle Scout's experience and wisdom. We kept watching the eagle, because it was huge and beautiful and mesmerizing. All the while, having been silently granted the Grand Poobah of All Things Eagle, Eagle Scout kept sputtering on and on about all the things he knew about eagles and birds and the first six days of creation.

After a minute or two of thinking about it, I spoke up. "You know, if he's feeding and feeling threatened, why doesn't he just grab his food and take off to a safer place?"

Eagle Scout didn't even mull it over. "Could be a pretty big animal. They can kill medium-sized dogs."

Hardly had these words finished emanating from his vocal chords when the eagle began clearly hobbling up the hill, one painstaking semi-bounce at a time. It had no prey. It was hurt.

"Um, I'm pretty sure it's hurt," #1 said. #1 isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even dumb guys like pointing out obvious mistakes by those who act like they know more.

Eagle Scout tried to recover. "Well, the way an eagle tries to protect its prey from a perceived threat is a lot like how they do when they're hurt. 'Cuz, like, they want to look big and scary even if they're, you know, hurt."

But Eagle Scout had lost his cred, and that summer of wildlife rehab had lost its weight.

We went in for all of five minutes to grab a bite of dessert and so I could call my sister, who really has worked wildlife rehab for more than a decade, and by the time we got back outside, the eagle -- if the damn thing was even an eagle -- was gone. And by gone, I don't mean it hobbled further up the hill. I mean, the damn thing had clearly flown away.

So basically, here's what we know for sure about this creature: it was a bird. We don't know for sure what kind. We don't know if it got hurt or how badly. We don't know if it killed anything and ate it or didn't. We don't know jack shit. But by golly, such things never keep us from trying like hell to impress others with knowledge we don't really have.

What is it about the human condition that makes some of us feel so compelled to be experts or knowledgeable about everything even when we're not? Do you know people like this?

There's the INTERLOPER, who noses into conversations uninvited to spew his knowledge. For example, there's a group of women sitting around and talking about Manolo Blahniks or something, and The Interloper will step in and start trying to spew information about women's shoes just because he read one dang article in Cosmo at some point, drowning out the conversation while the women roll their eyes and wonder how said male ever felt invited to say anything.

Then you've got the ONE-UPPER. You're whining to a few people about the frustrations you have with your infant son. And the One-Upper, unmarried and childless, begins telling tale after tale of nephews in faraway states or the children of friends and giving all sorts of reasons why her knowledge about child-raising and the nature of parenting should carry more weight than yours.

Or how about the MONOPOLIST? The Monopolist just can't tolerate anyone questioning their knowledge on any subject, and if anyone threatens their fiefdom with an equal level of intelligence or understanding, the Monopolist feels compelled to try and drown them out like it was some shouting match on Hardball.

Most of us fall on a Bell curve when it comes to these tendencies. I'm the first to acknowledge that I can be a guilty of all three of these from time to time, particularly in matters of '80s pop culture, comic book history, or certain musical trivia. That is, I'd like to think my need to be an expert is conditional on the topic. Certain readers could probably humble me with impunity by pointing out the many examples I've conveniently omitted.

But then there's people like Eagle Scout, who go so far out on the limb of expertise -- of expertise on seemingly everything, an omni-expertise, if you will -- that it leaves the rest of us practically praying for that limb to snap just so we can stare and laugh as the expert is debunked and humbled. Unfortunately, it seems that being wrong rarely stops Expert Wannabes from continuing to be Expert Wannabes. (Insert politically-motivated insult of Rush Limbaugh here.)

At times you want to feel sorry for Expert Wannabes, because you know it's a sign of wanting acceptance, of seeking approval through knowledge they sometimes don't possess and other times wield with all the grace of Daffy Duck with the quarterstaff. But eventually, if their timing is off, they wail away at you so frequently and so mercilessly that your defenses of politeness and pity can simply no longer withstand the barrage, and you're left to seethe or explode.

Oh. By the way, that eagle? It was a Red-Tailed Hawk.


daisy said...

This makes me think of Foghorn Leghorn and the chicken hawk cartoons.

Daytimerush said...


Tockstar said...

Crap. Crap. Crap. I tell stories about my friends' kids.

BeckEye said...

There really is a blah blah blah eagle, you know. They're very rare.

I have a good friend who can never just say "I don't know what you're talking about." It drives me insane, especially because I usually always know when she's bullshitting.