Friday, February 22, 2008

"Ignorant" and "Stupid"

Okay, let's get this one out of the way. I'm not a big fan of putting other people down. But I'm even less of a fan of other people putting other people down. This is not a question of me showing sympathy and compassion. The "other people" those other people are putting down invariably includes me.

All right, so here we go.

I'm working with this person, who, besides being immensely talented, is also extremely knowledgeable about the workings of the American government. He knows the big stuff and the small stuff. The minutiae. The stuff most people don’t care about. He knows it all.

But knowing, apparently, wasn't enough. For some reason – my wife is the psychologist in the family, not me – not only did this person know a lot of stuff about the workings of the American government, he needed everyone to know he knew. That was him. That was his way.

I'm familiar with the type. Please, I am the type. I know a lot about Toronto Maple Leaf hockey in the 1960's and I'm not shy about throwing it around. He goes on about the Department of Health and Human Services, I tell anyone who asks or doesn't ask that the centre who played between Frank Mahovlich and Bobby Nevin was Leonard "Red" Kelly, who later went on to become a Member of of the Canadian Parliament. I get it, it's fine.

But this isn't.

One day, we’re working on something, I guess, related to this subject, because it came up naturally in the conversation. By the way, if I’m wrong about this, "this" meaning the way I responded to what I’m about to tell you, feel free to let me know. I realize my social skills aren't the most perfectly honed. A well-reasoned correction on the matter would not be out of place.

Okay, so.

In the natural flow of the conversation, the person who knows a lot about the workings of the American government but also needs you to know he knows says,

HIM: “You know, a lot of people think it’s ‘The National Institute of Health.’ It’s not.”

ME: “It’s not?”

HIM: “No. It's ‘The National Institutes of Health.’”

ME: "I didn’t know that.”

HIM: “A lot of people don’t. They think it’s the ‘National Institute of Health.’”

ME: “I did.”

HIM “And it’s not. It’s ‘National Institutes of Health.’”

ME: “Thank you for clearing that up.”

HIM: "It's “Institutes.”

ME: “Yes.”

HIM: “Not Institute.”

ME: “I got it.”

HIM: “It’s the plural – “Institutes.”

ME: “Uh-huh.”

HIM: “People think it's the singular.”

ME: "Yes."

HIM: "Institute."

ME: "That would be the singular."

HIM: “They think it’s ‘The National Institute of Health, and they’re wrong.”

ME: “Yes, they are.”

HIM: “You know why?”

ME: “Because it’s ‘The National Institutes of Health.”

HIM: “No!”

ME: “It isn’t?”

HIM: “They’re wrong because they’re ignorant.”

Okay. Right there. That bothered me. And I said,

ME: “You know, ignorance is just something you don’t know yet. When you find out, you're not ignorant anymore.’”

HIM: “People don't know it's the National Institutes of Health."

ME: “That's right.”

HIM: “Because they’re ignorant.”

A pause, and possibly a sigh. As I've mentioned, I’m a huge fan of westerns. So I said,

ME: “Do you know the name of Hopalong Cassidy’s horse?”

HIM: “No.”

ME: “I do. It’s Topper. Now you know. And you’re not ignorant anymore.”

Years ago, my four year-old daughter and I waited in line at the Dumbo ride at Disneyland. When we finally reached the front, my daughter abruptly said, "No good this one, Daddy", and we left. When people puff themselves up at the expense of others, I have exactly the same reaction.

"No good this one."


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karyrogers said...

I'm pretty sure you couldn't have responded anymore perfectly.

Diogo said...

Oh my God! I Felt like I was watching "The Office" for a minute. Is that, or is that not a total belivable conversation between Michael and Dwight?

As for people being anal about their knowledge, that does not really surprise me. There are tons of people like that. Maybe you've been fortunate enough to know just a few, but the bitter truth is, everybody's got a "Better idea" on how to do something, and, usually they are not shy of presenting it, with all the I's and T's crossed. And knowledge is the same way. People with less fullfilling lives, adore the way they can go onto a "showdown" of inane trivia with another person, just to prove him more "stupid". There's really no way around it, and with new media like the internet, everybody can be heard on the most minute subject, and actually make it relevant.

Dimension Skipper said...

Hilarious story. Perfect response.

We probably all feel as if we know people like that (although I've never been that person, of course!).

I'm pretty sure I have heard the organization's title spoken as the plural and thus was vaguely aware of it, but to be perfectly honest I didn't really care. The point seems quite trivial compared to simply knowing that the NIH is generally concerned with health issues of the overall population.

However, your little story prompted me to look into the matter a bit more. So I visited the NIH website and found their FAQ page which in turn led me to this specific Q&A explaining that the NIH is comprised of "...27 separate Institutes and Centers, is one of eight health agencies of the Public Health Service which, in turn, is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services."

So there you have it.

Hey wow, I'm no longer ignorant!—well, on that point anyway. Thanks Earl!


Also, this xkcd cartoon seems strangely relevant. (Be sure to hold your mouse pointer over the cartoon steady enough to read the text comment which pops up.)

Veggie Gal said...

The way you told the story, I was laughing out loud. However, if I had actually been the one the guy was telling this to, I would have wanted to punch his lights (that's plural) out. Somehow I owe you. Thanks.

stacey said...

It's also the "Centers for Disease Control."

Max Clarke said...

There's a scene in the movie, Manhattan, shot at a museum with a backdrop that looked like outer space. Diane Keaton tells Woody Allen she can name all the moons of Saturn, and starts to do just that. Woody uses the opportunity to let her know that sort of knowledge gets in the way of a human life. And then they went to bed.

Tom Joad said...

But I wonder. I used to think "ignorance" was simply not being aware of a fact or idea. But couldn't help noticing the similarity to "ignore-ance" which would be being AWARE of a idea or fact, but willfully (and we have "willfull ignorance" as a phrase) ignoring a fact or idea we don't like.

Take me, I'm ignorant of proper use or quotes, commas, and parenthesis.

Abigail Gonzalez said...
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Abigail Gonzalez said...
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