First Words

What we know and what I don't

All knowledge is communal, but that's easy to forget.

My wife still laughs about it 35 years later. She had purchased a Bible trivia game, believing it was the perfect gift for her fiancé and his divinity school friends. When she brought it out one evening, however, and my friends and I saw that we were going to be competing with each other, we quickly lost interest. Nobody wanted to risk exposing his or her biblical ignorance in front of fellow seminarians. After some awkward laughter, we agreed to modify the rules and play the game as a single team.

I thought about that experience recently when a colleague of mine laughed at me for never having watched Game of Thrones. Not only have I not seen the program, I don’t know what it’s about. I could display similar ignorance in several dimensions of pop music and film culture, if you allow me to hoist my white flag of vulnerability.

Most of us are guilty at one time or another of snickering at friends who don’t know something we know. “You mean you’ve never been to IKEA?” “You don’t know who Kendall Jenner is?” “Everybody knows what a chatbot is!” The “Oh, my” we mutter next, paired with our own little eye roll, completes the not-so-subtle mockery. When we know something well, we find it hard to imagine that others around us don’t know the exact same thing. A kind of hubris sets in—a twinge of superiority. Something in us seems to enjoy knowing little bits of information that people around us don’t know. Our chuckle lets them in on our pride.