“You just think you KNOW EVERYTHING!”
“You NEVER listen!”
“I guess it’s your way or nothing huh?”
I don’t’ remember when I first begin hearing this. But I suspect it was around the time I began questioning the world around me. Questions like “How could Columbus discover America if people were already here? “or “Shouldn’t genetics make race impossible?” where not being appreciated coming from a 12-year-old. I wasn’t asking to be clever. I was asking because I was confused. I began the critical thinking process early and was an avid reader. Not for pride. Not for glory. No, I became a critical thinker because the world made no sense to me.
My overseers only seemed to care for themselves. I had trusted and been burned, therefore I would only consider that which had evidence. I couldn’t take people’s word for anything, because often they were in denial of their own hubris. Plus, people were hilarious. So full of stories and untapped potential. I had trusted the world as it was given to me. I was hurt when things blatantly contradicted. I didn’t know that everyone else had accepted this. No one let me in on the con. I was still thinking that there were some things people somehow overlooked. I was trying to help. I learned later that they just looked away; by exposing certain truths, I unintentionally revealed their inner cowardliness. I had also discovered Marvel Comics around this time.
I was 12.
I quickly found that people held others accountable to ideas they themselves couldn’t explain. This was as crazy to me then as it is now. At first, I thought I was liberating them. I believed that the truth and forwardness they asked for was a sincere and rational request. Ah, the naivety of youth. No, I was shamed for it. So I became quiet. If people want to suffer, LET ‘EM! I gave them what they wanted, not what they needed. They didn’t want the truth. I would laugh with/at them. I would create these worlds for them to feel safe in and move the pieces around as I saw fit. I became popular. It was really sad…but hilarious.
People would seek my counsel in private. All ages and sizes. Older couples, college students…they would ask deep, embarrassing questions that they wouldn’t ask anyone else. They trusted my integrity, my directness, my ability to be unbiased. I became the secret therapist that everyone was using, but no one would claim publicly. They gave me their secrets; I gave them advice. I thought this was friendship. I didn’t understand that solutions created resentment. It’s the first time I contemplated suicide. Apathy became my hiding place. Discernment became my burden. Watching people stumble on train tracks, and having to bear witness to their doom over and over again. HOW COULD THEY NOT SEE THE TRAIN!? Oh well. But it hurt.
I was 15.
I didn’t realize that the world didn’t care about solutions, but egotistical aesthetics. Organizations would balk at my ideas, attacking my character. Then steal my ideas WHILE I WAS STILL WITH THE ORGANIZATION. But I was loyal and downplayed the slap in the face. It was high school all over again. The difference is …I cared. I wanted to bring my knack for interpersonal problem solving to families in need. I was taught that if I develop my talents, worked hard, and was honest and caring, people would appreciate and judge me on my effectiveness. This is an incomplete truth.
I didn’t know better to hide my abilities. I wasn’t a snob. But I was direct. It was how I was groomed. It was not until the first time a supervisor laid into me, then admitted after the meeting he only did it because he didn’t want others to think he was scared of me…. that I accepted that adults where just children who hadn’t died yet. Silly me. Though I had only shown respect for him and had bought money into the organization ( he later apologize…and yes, it was in private. Are you seeing a pattern?), it didn’t matter. My effectiveness made him insecure. I never called him out, never “fronted” on him. But yet he ridiculed me very publicly for something that I was innocent of. Oh, he knew it at the time of his reprimanding. But it was easier to slander me than to defend me. He didn’t want to look like “he was following me”. He was competing with me, and I didn’t even know there was a game being played. I was hurt. So the truth is that I used to weave and make colors to soothe people now became a crude, blunt instrument. I would use their egos and hypocrisy to make them afraid.
I told him next time he disrespected me like that, I would punch him in his face without pause. He stayed out my way after that, but called me ‘uncooperative’ and a ‘know it all “behind my back. The fact that he lied and attacked my character unprovoked and ADMITTED it…meant nothing. No one would protect me. Just use me. Before that, I was training people with their Master’s degrees in Psychology in behavioral management, even though I didn’t even have my B.S or B.A at the time. In other circles, this would have made me somewhat of a prodigy. But I was the wrong age, wrong color. Fine. So I would yank their egos out and expose them. Soon people stepped lightly. I had become jaded. My tone took a challenging note, a frequency that only the egotistical could hear. And they wanted no parts of that. “Know it all” became something they would never bring to me. Just say about me. It was easier than confronting me. A shame really. So much good work could have been achieved if those assigned to manage me focused on utilizing my talents instead of proving their superiority. A real shame.
I was 25.
It’s funny, now I look back on it. I help people manage their interpersonal issues. I love my job and am honored to be able to become a part of the families I help. They often teach me as much as I teach them. I am now married, with my own business, a beautiful wife, and two children who think A LOT like their father. I encourage it (often to their mother’s dismay). I teach them to ground their curiosity with logic, wisdom, and evidence. I help them to understand their defense mechanisms so they are never trapped in them. I applaud their talents and encourage their skills. And I teach them how to not just maneuver the world, but how to manage people. Politics are everywhere. Move light, but move right. I am so proud of them.
Now I understand. It wasn’t that people really thought I was a “Know-It-All”; I have always been very vocal about my own shortcomings. It took a while for me to understand that what I knew wasn’t the problem. I also realized noone called me wrong. Yes, they would scoff in public; but tell me how “great a point I made” and” how it changed their lives in private. It was always something else. My tone, my posture. I was too gentle. I was too rough. I used to fidget with the social dial as it were, hoping for the frequency that would allow me to be honest, to enjoy dialogue, without people feeling threatened. Still, haven’t found it. The issue wasn’t what I knew. It was the fact that it came from me, a poor black boy from Missouri. Oh, you would think the issue would be with white people. Yeah, that too. But those who look like you are quickest to bury you…and are very good at it. Another hard lesson.
It took me a while to realize that the problem really wasn’t me. The problem was that I would not duck my head. The problem was that I would treat everyone equally even when they demanded worship. The problem was that I problem solve quickly and love freely. This was what made others uncomfortable. “Know It All” was a label that kept others from having to address what I was actually saying, while at the same time being able to avoid the nonsense coming from their own mouths. So now I hear it, and I laugh. Because in my experience, usually the one calling someone a “Know-It-All” …
Doesn’t know much at all.