Sunday, August 8, 2010

19: Present at the Birth of an Adage

I bought my 5yr old granddaughter a children's encyclopaedia; I was in Australia at the time so I was able to experience her first exploration of it. I've always loved Encyclopaedias, they are my favourite books (closely followed by Dictionaries). There is something very wonderful about holding a single book that contains knowledgeable answers to most questions. It's sad I know, but for many years I contrived to buy an Encyclopaedia Britannica who's 20 odd volumes I knew would contain all the answers worth having ... alas that knowledge was to remain beyond my finances.

Meanwhile in Australia, my Granddaughter sits beside me ... Cars; "I know about those". Elephants; " I know about those". Fish; "know about those". Mountains; "know about those" ... Zebras; "know about those". Book closes! So I opened the book on one of the things and read something about it that she didn't know. It was a wonderful to be at the dawn when she realised that though she knew, she knew about lots of things; she realised she didn't know everything about any of them! The rest of the day followed the format ..."Granddad. Tell me something I don't know about Elephants!". The pursuit of knowledge is a hard taskmaster ...

last year [1] I pondered the sufferings of Engineers who whilst striving to understand, discovers how little he/she actually knows. And thus how difficult it is for a knowledgeable person to provide an answer, whilst it is easy for one less skilled to do so. Our forefathers warned us about this in the old adage: "If you think it is easy; you don't understand the question". They also coined a word to use for those who pretended to have knowledge for their own gain; Charlatan.

So how does the unskilled person tell if an answer is from: a knowledgeable person; one pretending to be so; or one who simply has insufficient knowledge to make a judgement?

So those same wise forefathers helped us with this as well, they created the concept of the Professional; one versed in the speciality concerned and responsible enough to identify his/her own limitations. And in conjunction with his/her peers, able to confer professional recognition on others; and denounce charlatans. Professionals earn their rank, and behave accordingly. There was a time when their opinion mattered and they were trusted for that. Nowerdays, political correctness requires everybody to be equal, so everybody is an expert! As the man in the street can be poled on issues of immense depth and gravity, who needs professionals?

Alas, spray-on-knowledge; the sort gained from a quick science course, a search on the Internet, or propagated by a sensational seeking media; is not enough. This does not equip the recipient to make professional judgements, merely moves him/her into the category of those who think the answer is easy. Though they may have enough understanding of the terminology, they don't understand the depth of the question. A little knowledge, really is a dangerous thing. Too often the media are the charlatans in this. Feigning their own knowledge they empower the layman to make judgements on complex issues, by presenting limited or misleading contexts and Yes/No answers ... when in fact such simplification is not possible. (Have you stopped beating your wife?) The priorities of audience ratings, will seldom align with wider public good.

"Somebody's going to get hurt", "I wouldn't if I were you", "Never a borrower or a lender be!" Parents are so patronising! ... Let's face it, they are so unadventurous: They can never have been young; they can never have seen the world in the same vibrant colours that 'we' do ... it was all so different back then! So it is no surprise that we listen to our forefathers even less ... even when something goes wrong and the 'I told you so' rings so loudly for us; we prefer not to reflect on their other wise words. Human nature, but a very slippery slope ...

So now is the time, before the waste product and rotational air moving machine come together unnecessarily, it is wise to ponder a while on those wonderful experience based messages handed down through countless generations of caring parents to their offspring ... About the ways of the world and the behaviour of the Cro-Magnons [2] we spend our lives amongst ...

Lest the only thing we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history?


1: The more I learn, the less I know
2: Somewhere over the Rainbow