Humans have three seemingly inseparable characteristics that both amaze and baffle me. I am amazed by our insatiable desire to know everything that could possibly be known about virtually anything. Of course, curiosity is not limited to humans. Anyone who has ever been owned by a cat has witnessed unbridled curiosity. Especially as kittens, they can spend hours exploring and investigating the world around them. This tendency appears in the young of most animals to one degree or another and is probably related to some sort of survival instinct. Humans, however, have this characteristic in spades. This is aided by our ability to conceptualize what we want to know and communicate to others what we have learned.
The results of these abilities are incredible. At this point, we have pointed the Hubble telescope into the heavens and seen galaxies billions of light years away. We have developed viable theories about quantum physics and appear to understand the very essence of the phenomenal world. We have developed marvelous technology that enables doctors to work miracles and the average person to instantly communicate with someone on the other side of the planet. Our potential to learn and apply that knowledge in practical ways seems limitless.
Nevertheless, what absolutely baffles me are the two evil step-sisters of our desire to know, a need to be “in the know” and a need to be “right” about everything. Hundreds of years ago it seems that the desire to be in the know was typically concentrated in the village busy-body/gossip. As technology grew, this tendency broadened. No doubt the day after the printing press was invented the local newspaper was printed sporting a brand new gossip column. When cell phones became prevalent, people could be seen all over the place with a phone glued to their ear. Now we have the social networks providing voluminous information about the minute details of people’s lives.
I think that the social networks can be a wonderful tool. In fact, I have a Facebook account. But please, do we really need to know that your dog just pooped on the rug, or that you are dying to have a Dr. Pepper, or what color shoes you just bought? For those who want to be in the know, this is a golden age. However, I suspect that before long we will be hearing about a new condition requiring professional therapy, social network obsessive disorder (SNOD). Its chief symptoms will be a failure to perform normal daily activities due to excessive use of the computer and an inability to relate to other humans in a face-to-face setting.
Although satisfying the desire to be in the know can consume a great deal of time and energy, it is relatively harmless. The same cannot be said about the other step-sister. Those who always want to be right range from merely being abrasive to being lethal. The root of the problem is that too frequently people are unable to distinguish between fact, belief and opinion. While it may be possible for someone to be right about facts, right or wrong, people are entitled to their own beliefs and opinions unless they lead to behavior that infringes on the rights of someone else. Yet beliefs and opinions are the areas that generally cause the greatest conflicts.
An insistence on being right runs the gamut of our social relationships. At the personal level, this tendency can strain or even sever friendships and family ties. Within a society, it can lead to the thought police insisting that we be PC in our speech. At the governmental level, it can lead to oppression and even war. Even a casual review of history and current events will produce an inordinate list of conflicts related to this inclination.
It seems to me that this problem is related to some sort of personal insecurity. Is it possible that people like this need others to agree with them in order to establish their sense of worth? Or, is their concept of the world so rigid and fragile that conflicting opinions will cause their house of cards to tumble? It’s hard to tell what the underlying cause is, but the phenomenon is ubiquitous.
It would be wonderful if we could pass a law that prevented people from insisting on being right about everything, but we would have to convince the majority of the legislators that we were right about passing the law, and implementing it would be a nightmare. That just sounds like way too much work. So, as I share my observations, I’m just going to look out for that tendency in myself and not insist that I am right. This is merely an invitation to consider what is presented here.
I’m pretty sure that I’m right about that.