The specialist’s plight

A followon to yesterday’s post.

The plight of the specialist is that nobody understands you.

You’re a tech guy and you’re surrounded by non-engineers. You’re a PhD whose discipline is lost on the general public. You’re a classical pianist and your kids like to crank up Avril Lavigne. You’re a mathematician whose Wikipedia entry is critiqued by dunderheaded liberal-arts-major bloggers.

Poor you.

The really unfortunate thing is that many specialists respond by characterizing everyone else as stupid. “They just don’t get it” is one my least favorite phrases – it’s dismissive, it’s snotty and most of all, it’s a cop-out. If you want people to understand and appreciate your area of knowledge, it’s up to YOU to figure out how to communicate about it in an interesting way. The world does not owe you their appreciation, and (are you sitting down?) there’s nothing inherent to your discipline that makes it more worthy of attention than everybody else’s. Book smart isn’t the only kind of smart. Physicists aren’t the only intelligent life on the planet. 

It’s good for me to repeat this periodically. Because I sometimes encounter difficulty persuading people of the value of my ideas. Easy to resort to blaming them, but that doesn’t get me anywhere.

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One thought on “The specialist’s plight

  1. Prerequisites. This was the term they used in school to say “you need to know this in order to learn this”. I don’t mind hearing that I can’t understand subject X fully because I haven’t learned about Y. You hit on something there attacking people’s arrogance for choosing a certain path A instead of path B. They need to meet the people who chose path B that look down upon those who chose path A, when it could very well be the case that they were both capable of choosing either path.

    Simpler yet, if everyone recognized eggs to be the supreme form of life on the planet, physicists wouldn’t go around thinking that they’re all that. But human nature won’t allow it.

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