Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Inexpert Opinion

This month has been more full than usual. I volunteer with the Friends of the Library for one of my nearby libraries. They have a used bookstore set up within the library, and February was my month to maintain it. Which is great. I always wanted my own bookstore. I spent a few hours every week sorting donations and organizing shelves. I fixed up the jumble that was the children's book section, which suffers greatly from neglect because very few volunteers are parents of young children. In fact, I might be the only one. That's why some of the Friends have taken to calling me an "expert" on children's books. I've tried to discourage this. I'm not comfortable with the term.

We live in a society that is enamored of its experts. We listen rapt to their advice. We read their books. We quote them on Facebook. We set their opinions and advice above all others. We treat them like the prophets of their profession. And if we happen to disagree with an expert, we tear them down mercilessly. That's the part that bothers me the most. When I helped organize the children's books for the big annual book sale, I tried to downplay any expertise I might have. I don't know everything about every single children's book. What I do know comes from spending over fifteen years wandering the children's room at the library. That doesn't mean I've read every children's book and know from a glance at the cover where to put it. I make mistakes too. But if you are considered the expert, some people will take those mistakes and hold them up as proof that you don't know anything.

And that is what I see is the biggest problem with trusting experts. For those who agree with an expert, it seems to be an excuse for not thinking. We can defer to our experts on everything from lifestyle choices to political affiliation. For those who disagree, they line up their own set of experts for an intellectual battle to the death. From watching my brother debate in high school, I remember being struck at how the debaters were capable of choosing either side of an issue to argue because they researched the topic from all angles. No matter what my expert opinion is, it is still an opinion, whether we are arguing over placement of children's books or the best way to homeschool a child. I don't want to be an expert who tells others what they should or should not be doing. I would rather encourage others to be the best they can be, no matter what path they choose to take.

~“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” - Albert Einstein

~“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too” - Voltaire


Paula Vince said...

And when two 'experts' in the same field give advice that completely contradicts each other, we have no idea where to turn. Good post, Cristina, and I like the educated opinions of the two gentlemen you quoted at the end :)

Inner Elder said...

I believe that the term "expert" is relative. People often thought I was an "expert" in the field of aging, but being in the field I knew how much there was to know, and how much I didn't know. However, you can still use your "expertise" to point those (who know even less) in the right direction. I would take it as a compliment that others recognize how much you DO know about children's books.

A very thoughtful and thought provoking post. Thank you. Love, Mom

Stephanie said...

You and I are like-minded in so many ways. I've always disliked the word "expert," and when I was a therapist, I refused to let people call me an "expert" in substance abuse. I also have an instinctive distrust of "experts." The word "expertise" is O.K. You can qualify it -- e.g. "I have some expertise in children's literature because it's something I love."

jugglingpaynes said...

Mom and Stephanie: That's a good way of looking at it. I would prefer being told I have some expertise in that area. I think my problem with "expert" is that it panics me the way an A student would feel if they thought they always needed to get an A. (Mom, you know what I mean here). It's impossible to be an expert except in the narrowest terms, since we can't have every kind of experience within our particular field of expertise.

Thank you everyone for your comments!

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