Friday, January 28, 2011

The Danger of Knowing It All

Remember yesterday I said I had to teach a child who "knows it all" ?  Let's talk about the problem of "knowing it all."  We all know someone like this.  Someone we can't ever get a word in edgewise with.  Someone who discounts any idea we have.  Someone who makes you wonder, "Why am I here? Why'd you want to have lunch with me if you could carry on this conversation by yourself?" You guys know the feeling.  It's off putting.

Why do people do this? Why do people feel compelled to let every one know they are smarter or know more?  Well, sometimes it's just poor social skills.  No one ever said to the child, "That's enough. Don't interrupt.  No, that's not right.  Stop and listen."  I don't have kids, but I imagine it's very easy to encourage an intelligent child.  It must be really cool to hear them talk about their observations and watch them learn.  I imagine it's a thin line between encouraging that development and creating a "know it all" child.

For others, "knowing it all" is a wall they erect around themselves. It protects them from criticism.  It allows them to be superior.  If you're superior to everyone else, it's hard to get hurt.  But, guess what? They do.  They often end-up lonely because no one wants to be around a "know it all."  Sad when you really think about it isn't it?

The lesson client I mentioned who has this issue has been through two other riding instructors.  No one ever taught her more than a few lessons.  Her grandmother told me how much that hurt the kid's feelings.  She felt like those instructors didn't like her.  The grandmother told me one instructor kept canceling scheduled appointments and the other stopped returning her calls.  Well, sometimes instructors have to cancel.  Occasionally, a particular client is always the one that's getting rained out or the instructor seems to always get sick on that person's appointment day.  It's happened to me.  I feel horrible about it.  I try to convey this so no one takes it personally.  I don't know those instructors.  So, I have no idea what happened.  I can imagine it would be easy to find a way to passively cop out on teaching this kid, though.  Like all "know it alls" she can be a struggle to be around.

I keep all of this in mind when I deal with her.  Is she just an intelligent child that no one has set boundaries with? Is she an insecure child under it all and this is a defense mechanism?  I don't know how she's developed this habit.  She does seem like an intelligent child.  She is otherwise polite and kind to my staff and animals.  She does not seem ill willed in any way. So, I'm willing to keep going with her.  But, I also hear my parents come out of my mouth when I'm with her.

I can imagine I had moments of being a "know it all" child.  I know I've had them as an adult.  Fortunately, someone has always been there to challenge me back into my place.  The things I speculated no adult has ever said to this child, oh man, I can remember my parents saying things like that to me, too.  In college, one of my roommates who is still a very close friend, said to me, "You'll argue about anything."  Oops. That gave me a really unattractive picture of myself. 

The thought of that moment has made me shut-up a number of times.  I don't want to be that person.  I should probably shut-up more.  I'm learning.  But, my problem was the first issue. I was an intelligent kid who liked to talk about what I learned, to everyone. That's carried into adulthood, hopefully in more functional ways.  It enabled me to give good explanations as a very young research director to convince other legislators that what my legislative committee members wanted to do was right.  It enabled me to process through what a therapy client was feeling with them by talking through my observations of what they'd said.  It enables me to be a good riding instructor, although they may get more information than they really wanted sometimes.  For me, it is and was, about being excited about something.  I suspect it's the same for my lesson kid.

There's a danger in "knowing it all." Danger? Yes.  When we "know it all" we stop listening.  We stop paying attention.  We are closed off to new ideas.  We become closed off to other people.  If you "know it all" around horses, you're going to get hurt sooner rather than later.  This is not my original thought.  It's my mentor's.  I had this conversation with him on a day I most certainly did not feel like I knew it all. It was before I owned the farm and Tar was my only horse.  I was having problems with him.  I don't remember what, but I called RW feeling like a stupid failure.  Yes, folks, I am capable of feeling like a stupid idiot and that day I sure did.

Whatever the problem was, he talked it through with me.  At the end of the conversation these very wise words came from him, "I always learn something new every time I'm with horses.  If you don't keep learning something new with horses you're in trouble.  When you think you know it all about horses, you better get out because you're about to get hurt."  Sage advice. 

Why would "knowing it all" be so dangerous around horses?  Remember I told you horses are smarter than your kids--and most humans to tell you the truth--because they pay attention to everything?  Think about that.  Here's a 1000 pound prey animal who's senses are more sensitive than ours and he's paying attention to everything and deciding how to react.  One thousand pounds of reaction is a heck of a thing. Yes, the average horse weighs 1000 lbs. and he's about to bolt, spook, take off, or any other amount of prey animal reaction at any moment if you aren't careful.  It's how they survived in the wild.  It's how they kept from being the mountain lion's lunch.  They aren't being bad, they are being prey animals. That's important to understand because if you aren't paying attention because you already "know it all," you are about to get hurt, cowboy.  That's the danger of knowing it all around horses.

I hope you have a good Friday.  I'll talk to you later.

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