What Do People Know?
Do you ever keep guessing wrong about something?
I always seem to get wrong what others know or don’t know. One example was my husband Barry, who had Huntington’s Disease. Toward the end of his life, I was very frustrated. If I thought he could not do a particular thing, he would prove me wrong and do it. On the other hand, there were things I assumed he could do and then, often at a later date, I would realize he could not have done no matter how hard he tried. I think now that he would rather have had me believe that he was a stubborn, pig-headed man than to admit that he could not do something. The point is that I was consistently wrong about his abilities.
My mother is the other obvious example. Sometimes, you hear stories from middle-aged people saying that they now understand their parents’ wisdom in a way they could not when they were new adults. As young adults, they were arrogant and thought their parents knew nothing. As they matured, they found out just how much self-control their parents actually had in keeping their traps shut about the young adult’s various decisions. This is the polar opposite of my experience. I entered adulthood assuming that my parents fully understood how destructive my brothers’ drinking and drugging were, but didn’t care.
(There is a greeting card that shows a very-wise-looking cat on the outside and says, “Cats know exactly how you feel.” You open up the card and it says, “They don’t care, but they know.” That was my assumption regarding my parents until just the past few years.)
I was so wrong. I saw last year how my mother is frantic about Dave and Bob. Now that the denial has broken in the family, my mom is worried sick about my brothers. Suddenly, she cares. Such concern is approximately 40 years too late and consequently worthless. Now that absolutely nothing positive or constructive can be done to address the situation, she is upset. Recovery is no longer an option.
I used to be an algebra tutor. That is easy. Algebra must be taught in a particular order. You can’t learn long division until you master addition, for example. You start out with variables meaning nothing. Six plus A equals nine. Solve for A. Swing the six and the A to opposite sides and subtract the 6 from the nine. A equals three. I could figure out exactly where students got stuck because there is no variation in how algebra is taught. I would ask a question, get a blank stare, ask another question, insult their intelligence, and then narrow down where they were stuck through the blank-stare-and-insult process. Ding ding ding! We have a winner. Now I can help the student overcome the current hurdle and see if they want a preview of the next one.
In organizations, one must always make the assumption that people know both more and less than you probably think they do. One person may not know everything, but they know when something has changed. Now multiply that by everybody and you have a great variety of knowledge levels. Also, some people are intuitive or perhaps psychic and you can see the issues. When there is not communication coming from on high, it is inevitable that people will cluster and share bits and pieces of what they know. Sometimes the correct conclusion will be reached, sometimes not. Oftentimes, people don’t realize how close to the truth they have come.
Are there ways to know the knowledge level of people? The quality of their thinking?
I am pushing sixty years old and only now am seeing the low quality of my parents’ thinking. I am unsure of what, if anything at all, my parents understood when I was twenty. I believe that the child part of us needs to believe that our parents are wise (if not particularly caring, like the cat on the card). We need desperately to believe that our caretakers can be there for us when needed. Even, and perhaps especially, when it is not true.
I am obsessed with connecting the dots. But it is hard when you don’t know how many dots other people have nor do you know their ability to connect them. I get tired of playing the blank-stare-and-insult game with everyone. So I usually don’t say anything at all, even if asked to contribute. Pissing people off is not my goal in life. But I am still left with my own bits and pieces that don’t always make any sense. I suck at this.