The Dark Side Of Thinking You’re Smart

I am writing this down because it is important to tell you how something made me feel this week, and to point out just how much help I personally needed to see it for what it was. I am a pretty confident person when it comes to my own knowledge and opinions. I make up my mind considering more than one angle for any issue, no matter if it’s Gaza or Ferguson. What I try to do is take a neutral position in the middle and accept the fact that all participants are probably right, in their own ways.

What recently happened to me online was the opposite of this. It started on Twitter, a platform that I have never perceived as anything but very positive so far. People sometimes kick off short discussions, but the 140 character limit keeps opinions to a minimum. The constraints of having to be so concise encourage people to make their point without a lot of waffle. This is how I see it. And because it’s a cool open forum, I like to participate in quick language discussions. One tweet I saw concerned the question of language learning: Is there a natural aptitude? Is it a talent? It’s obvious how many views and perspectives make for a rich debate here, and an interesting one too. I replied to the wrong person, apparently.

Haven’t You Read This Article I Wrote?

As part of the twitter dialogue that would not end, I was shown just how obviously I was wrong. I was accused of having business interests behind my opinion, and helpfully educated through links to more articles Mr Smart had written for the internet. The debate ended with what I thought was “let’s agree to disagree”, except the next day I received a 2000 word bombardment in my email telling me all the ways in which I should be acting. I was assured by my newly self-appointed teacher that he was “a trained linguist”, obviously disregarding the fact that, you know what, so am I.

Please don’t take this as critical of you personally; I don’t know anything about you as a teacher or tutor, so I don’t know what you already say to students.

I was told “this is no personal criticism to you” as if it was a given that I could only be wrong. I was even reassured that he does not really know anything about me, so he can’t be sure just how wrong I am. I was truly schooled, or so he thinks. Helpfully all this was underlined with a note that I am “not to reprint it” as it’s an editorial for “the publication I edit”.

Mate. I am not reprinting it because it is not science. It is egomania.

I have found this type of behaviour most rude, to be honest. The presumption of writing to me, proclaiming “published and trained” as if that made you a more valuable person by default, is truly beyond the pale. If the email and tweets had truly been addressed to me rather than being a semi-public demonstration of his own perceived status, they would have opened a dialogue. As it was, I got steamrollered with way too many words, with a lecture, putting me into the rule of a pupil when I had not opened up that door to that particular person.

Undermining Behaviour Patterns

This type of behaviour is often highlighted when men talk down to women (and no, I am not saying “all men are like that”). As you can see above, there’s a clear presumption from the person that I need to be educated, that my opinion is inferior to his, and that all it takes for me to agree with him is to show me how truly smart he is.I could have waved my experience and qualifications around in defence, but it’s really pretty pointless. Some observers have coined a term for it: Mansplaining.

Here’s the danger: I took it all! The self-references to “an article I wrote in the NY times, and here’s one in a respected qualification” did work at first. I doubted my own convictions, my own expertise, I thought maybe I’m wrong and this guy is clearly smarter than me. Someone writing a long article must know what they’re talking about, right? But the more this went on, the more I was bombarded with further references to the person’s greatness. He even assured me that he was the core research source in this field – no need to consult anyone else, this is the wisdom source. That’s when it dawned on me that my role was not even to use my intellect – it was to open my eyes as wide as I could, and stand in awe of the greatness I was witnessing.

I mentioned my experience to a supportive friend, and she instantly pointed out what’s going on here. Mansplaining is undermining, it is hurtful and it is extremely impolite. The experience I have just had is not one I wish on anybody because it’s extremely rude.

If you are someone experiencing this type of communication, no matter if you are a woman or not, remember that you don’t have to take all that rubbish. Remember that your opinions and knowledge should always open to the possibility that you are wrong, but not the certainty that you are wrong. Don’t let someone convince you they are right just because they like to self-aggrandize.

As I am leaving it, I can’t engage in this type of behaviour. I found his point quite interesting, at the start. Do you have any recommendations for what comes next?

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