Shared Knowledge: Please Don’t Assume I Know What You Know

Today, I was talking to a classmate I don’t know well about future plans. We both are in the second semester of our master’s degrees, both from the humanities department — she is doing film and media studies, I am doing linguistics.

Out of curiosity, I asked her if she had the slightest idea of what she might want to do after she graduates; she answered that she felt two kinds of jobs were appealing to her and went on telling me about those two options.

One of them was PR. She said she wanted to do PR.

PR, which stands, she explained a few words later, for public relations.

And see, there are many things in this world that I know I should know: how to conjugate verbs in the past or future to make myself understood, how to count up to the big and scary numbers, how to tie my shoes; I know how babies are made, what nutrients are for, and why it is beneficial for you to exercise; I know about different governmental systems in the world, I know who Gandhi is and that Bogotá is the capital of Colombia.

I know things, and I know I know things, but there so many more things I don’t know, and I know that there are so many more things I don’t know.

And I didn’t know what doing PR means.

Now, it is not the first time this —seeing the look in the other person’s eyes, who realises you don’t know what they’re talking about (if you’re transparent) and who, from my own experience, in 8 out of 10 cases, judges you negatively— has happened to me and I know I am not the only one who has experienced this uncomfortable feeling. How many times have you nodded approvingly, showing attention and understanding, when someone was telling you about a thing they did at work or they went through in their studies when you actually had no idea of what they were talking about but didn’t ask about, for fear to feel like an outsider, or worse, stupid.

There are words, expressions, that we hear them all the time — and sometimes even use — without really knowing the meaning that’s embedded to them. And I have a feeling no one

a) really cares about understanding what the other person is saying, or

b) really cares about knowing things.

Maybe both.

But I do — and I know many people do, too.

When you talk to me, I would like to understand you as much and as well as I can. Besides, I like learning things. When you assume I know what you are talking about, and when you realise I don’t, and when you take me for stupid or uneducated, you prevent me from achieving these goals.

So. Next time you are in a situation where you see your audience doesn’t follow or understand you, please don’t take them for stupid. They are not stupid. They just don’t share the same knowledge.

Please don’t assume everyone knows what you know just because you know it. Or just because we have access to online dictionaries and, in general, this almost magical resource that’s called internet — which, by the way, still about half the planet is not able to use (and which also allowed me to learn what it means to “do PR”). Please don’t assume the basis of your knowledge is the basis of my knowledge, too. Please, be my teacher instead.

And maybe… Maybe you don’t know how to be a teacher — and that’s fine too. Cf. the previous paragraphs of this article. But please, please, don’t look down on me for not knowing.

brain left and right

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