We Americans sure do love experts.
It’s been at least a generation since the image of an “expert” was the archetypal man in a suit and tie…but we generally still trust him.
Maybe it’s a cultural thing, maybe it’s a human thing. But I find that we spend a lot of time seeking out people who can tell us the way things are, the way the wind is blowing, or the way things ought to be.
No doubt, we need people with specialized knowledge. But I also find that in my life, I have to limit the number of experts that have influence over me. I cannot listen to everyone.
Because experts contradict each other. If you are an expert in your field, the best thing you can do for your career is to have a contrary opinion. All of a sudden, you’ll be making the rounds on all the cable news outlets. And the rest of us are left to make petty arguments over the internet over which expert is more “expertly,” which is especially useful when it comes to topics that cannot really be proven.
Experts are often surprised, which in my mind, kind of undoes the veneer of “expertise.” Now, I value the pursuit of new knowledge, and celebrate when experts acknowledge that they have learned something new. (To see the excitement on the faces at NASA over the Pluto photographs was pretty cool.) But when a group of experts is constantly surprised, it tells me that they aren’t really that knowledgable. They have just been given the authority to sound knowledgable.
And finally, I limit the number of experts who are in my life on a very personal level, because I need a sense of discovery in my life. Remember when we were teenagers and our parents had to tell us not to do reckless things? Some people in the adult world think that they need to play that part with other adults. It’s strange but true. These people have written no books, they host no television or radio shows. But they are self-appointed experts. And you and I sometimes need to get them out of our lives. They are the friends who spoil the end of the movie, or the co-worker who is always giving reasons why an idea won’t work. What makes that person such a prophet?
Nothing. They are just cynical, and their cynicism is disguised as wisdom.
Be careful about the experts in your life. Not all of them are really authorities. Some people just crave authority, though they have no way to actually earn it.
So take stock of the people you are listening to. Do they know what they are talking about? If not, then it might be time to jettison them and sail in a new direction.