Saturday, December 01, 2007

Know-it-alls and pontificators

I’ve been thinking about know-it-alls recently—because I’ve met a few.
I recently said to Ralph, "Someone told me that Edward Elgar is the poor man’s Brahms." Ralph, who takes himself much too seriously, replied, “I’m dubious of all such comparisons.”
Typical. He announces that he doesn’t think much of Thomas Jefferson. That George W. Bush will go down in history as another George Washington. (My reply: They shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence.)
In short, he talks as if his views are holy writ, as if he is a guru, as if he is a recognized authority. He pontificates. He talks as if he were the chief justice of the Supreme Court or a Nobel Prize-winner when you and I know that he is just one of us. Immodest. Unhumble.

I met one fellow, years ago, the father of a friend of mine, and in just a few minutes I disliked him intensely. Why? In thinking about it, I decided that it was because he treated me as an audience for his profound words of wisdom. And his words of wisdom didn’t impress me.

If someone treats you as an inferior, as just an audience, that person isn’t complimenting you.

Flachsenhaar, the arrogant editor of the Daily Record, is like that. He habitually comes out with seemingly sententious remarks that, when you think about them, are commonplace. Or just wrong. “I believe newspapers should tell the truth.” In a strong voice with a serious look. The hidden message: “I am very wise and you should bow down before me.” And all he issues are bromides!

Some people are know-it-alls. Not the same. They may just like to share interesting facts. My late friend, Roy Pollack, was like that. Talking about Thailand, he might say: Did you know that the leading cause of death there is snake bites?
I do that, too. I like quoting witticisms. Yesterday, talking about Wagner, I mentioned that Mark Twain said that his music is better than it sounds. I DO like to appear knowledgeable. (And I love to tell jokes!)
But know-it-alls don’t pontificate. They aren’t handing down their opinions from the throne. “I-- yes I myself, the great and powerful Wizard of Oz--believe that …”
Know-it-alls may show off their knowledge, not their opinions. So they aren’t necessarily obnoxious.
Jimmy Rogers, the investor, is forever giving his opinions, but they are provocative and sometimes startling—and he is courteous about it. He’s chatty about it. Not arrogant at all. And he really is worth listening to. The true pontificator is rarely if ever worth listening to.

Another way of putting it: Pontificators behave as if they are the Wizard of Oz ... when actually they are the humbug hiding behind the curtain.

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