Dealing with (Other) People Who Know Everything

HEADS UP!  This is sort of a rant about people who rant.

Yes, I do see the irony here.  But, I’m letting you “in the panty drawer” so that my bravery may inspire bravery in others.


Can there be anything more insufferable than a person who knows everything?

Lately, I’ve been brushing up against a lot of know-it-alls out there.

I don’t know if it’s the upcoming elections, our upcoming move, or what — but people are really convinced of their “rightness.”

They know what’s right for me.

They know what’s right for you.

They know what’s right for strangers across the country — even in other countries.

They know what’s right for family members.

They know what’s right for my children.  They know what’s right for yours.

They know what’s right for schools, investments, sexuality, marriage – a lot of knowing going on out there.

They’re in your beds, they’re at your supper table.  They’re at your church, your synagogue, your nonbeliever temple in the woods.

They’re between you and your banker, you and your lover, you and your grocer.  They know what color food you should eat and have opinions about the sustainability of what you keep in your crisper.

They know what kind of car you should drive or if you should bike everywhere at all times.  Some of them even have opinions about whether you should flush for “Number 1” or “Number 2.”

They’re everywhere except where they need to be — tending to the rightness of their own (spiritual) houses.

Remember when you were younger and, perhaps, in love for the very first time? Remember as you gazed upon your beloved in a restaurant somewhere and some older person felt compelled to come up to you and mutter, “Just wait. It won’t last.”

Why do people do that?

I’m just guessing, but I think it may be this:

The self-righteousness of  some people is really just FEAR dressed in Wisdom Drag. (click to tweet)   Yes, that includes mine, too!  I see me seeing you instead of looking at beautiful, not-quite-thoroughly healed ME!!

As a person who’s getting older every day, that is NOT the way I want to be seen by others.

I want to remain teachable.

Just because I bought something ONCE in my lifetime 15 years ago, does not mean I know everything there is to know about buying a new one of those things today.  Just because, 30 years ago, I went to college, does NOT mean I know everything there is to know about college today.

Just because I’ve been sober 23 years, DOES NOT mean I know everything there is to know about living a sober life today — certainly not that.

OH, and by the way, the genetic make-up of your body parts does NOT entitle you to — well, anything. And that’s equally true whether you’re sporting an X or a Y.

I want to be open to new ideas. I fear the stagnation of my own curiosity because I dread the resultant sludge of closed-mindedness that is its inevitable handmaiden.


Deep breath.

Now that I’ve blown off the steam that’s been gathering by my reactions to (other) insufferable people, here’s the spiritual karm-o-matic question that I must ask myself at this point:

Why am I becoming snagged on what “they” are or aren’t doing? When I am pointing my righteous indignation finger at you, it’s almost always because there is some wound in me that needs tending.

What is it about insufferably “right” people that is so off-putting? And why is it so difficult for me to feel compassion in my own heart when I find it lacking in yours?

FURTHER, where am I-I-I insufferably right?  (If you’re lost, read the last few hundred words.)

Here’s a spiritual test — if you feel compassion at my lack of compassion for others with “lower” compassion levels than I, then you’re ahead.  Unless, of course, you don’t believe in all that “ahead/behind” stuff.

Anyway, as you can clearly see, I’m not there yet.  I AM working on it, though.


Love, Jen

P.S. – If you wonder if I’m talking about you, here’s how you’ll know — If you get what I’m talking about, it isn’t you.  If you’re balking — even just a little bit — then, um — anyone got a mirror?

If that be the case, you can either try (like I am) to stretch your compassion-muscle just a tad.  Or, if this bit of truth-telling is really just too much, you can hit the “unsubscribe” button below.  (I hope you won’t do that, though.  We need to stick together so we can learn from each other.)

Photo: flickr, katclay

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56 Responses to Dealing with (Other) People Who Know Everything

  1. Laura D says:

    Jennifer, I love this. Your “Fear dressed in Wisdom drag” line sums it up so beautifully. That you are able to recognize when you are trying to flex your rightness muscle is all the proof that I need that you don’t lack compassion for anyone. Spare a drop of that compassion for yourself.

    I just deleted a whole swath of text – I could do a thesis on this – which just shows that I possess the same need to prove my rightness and other peoples’ not rightness. But I don’t want to detract from what you so beautifully said in far fewer words.

    Thank you.

  2. Ellen says:

    I co-coach a mid-week class at my church and last night my “co-leader” (whom I had not met before we were put together to co-coach) informed me that she had to hold back from interjecting into the discussion because she is so much further along spiritually than the rest of us! I was so stunned, all I could do was stare at her with a frozen half-smile on my face. Thank you for putting what I was thinking into words: “The self-righteousness of some people . . . “

  3. Cindy says:

    Very excellent topic. Face this all the time in my life and look up and hold out my arms and say “I can’t control everything” and after many years of beating myself up over the lack of control in every aspect of my and my families life, I am just now saying “let me experience real joy” and let me remember what it feels like. Watching all of the horrible news from hurricane “Sandy” makes me feel overwhelmed, and even though we escaped this storm, there will be others. Trying to take it one day at a time and knowing that there is real pain and suffering in this world, I am trying to just “let it be.” Great song for the day.

  4. Jane London says:

    Such an interesting concept and a difficult topic for a ‘know-it-all’ who is struggling mightily to do it only part time. As a morning radio host, my job description is to always have an answer, a perspective, an opinion. People write to us begging for on-air advice and I have to admit that as I get older (and wiser), I’m less and less comfortable with that.

    As for other ‘know-it-alls’, I think that people just want to be heard; when something comes up that they have even the tiniest grain of experience with, they are compelled to share. I think that it’s partly the overwhelming lack of control many are feeling in their lives and the huge growth in internet/social networking, where one’s every thought or emotion MUST BE SHARED.

    Having said all that, my biggest pet peeve with my fellow humans is the apparent lack of introspection, hunger to learn and resistance to change/new ideas. Perhaps those things come with age. All I can do is control ME.

    Thanks for the morning mind exercise.

    • Jennifer says:

      Jane, I recently met with my Master Mind group and one of the people who was there to help us was trying to get me to “own” my “leader” status. Except I don’t really want to be a leader — what if I take you to the wrong place? After listening to him, though, I could see that if what I’m supposed to do is lead you to your own best knowing, then, I can talk about that.

      I’ve spent ALL of my adult lifetime working on that journey. I feel comfortable leading by showing my own a%%. Maybe that helps.

      I hope that, any day now, we can all drop the facade of “knowing” what’s best for each other.

      • Sandy Morris says:

        “…leading by showing my a%%!” I love it! My technique also! I too hope that we can drop the facade one of these days! Teaching others doesn’t have to mean that I am better than you! Love your wisdom and humility, Jen! Yes, you can have both!

  5. Stuart Young says:

    Yep, I certainly used to be one of those ‘always right’ guys. Some might say I’m still that way, maybe I am to a different level – I’m a work in progress like you. Certainly when I think back my rightness was rooted in self esteem. I ‘needed’ to be right in order to be thought of as valuable. Now, I’m opinionated but not always right. In fact I spend at least an hour a day learning. Because I do like to be right still, but I want to be right from a standpoint of ‘actually being right’ – well as right as anyone can be. This way I can use that knowledge to help others rather than boost my own fragile ego. Everything I just said could be wrong though! 😉

  6. Michelle says:

    I LOVE this. I LIVE with this. I love my husband dearly. But he is the BIGGEST know it all you’ll ever meet. How do I know this, you say? I’ve been a Realtor for 18 years, and yet, when it comes to Real Estate, he STILL acts like it he knows more than me. So yeah, trust me, I know what’s it like to live with someone like that. Now, I’m not saying *I’M* never like that, but I think I see it so much in him, that I TRY not be one. (Not sure if that makes sense).
    GREAT POST! Thanks for sharing.

    • Jennifer says:

      I hear you, love. You make perfect sense of a senseless way of being. It’s not like we’re not going to die one day. Why all the self-righteousness? It’s not going to keep you from where ALL of us are going.

    • Dianne says:

      Actually Michelle, I thought it was my husband who was the biggest know it all of all times 🙂 I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as his mother talks like a walking encyclopedia – ok, she did teach history for years and she is very well read and quite a world traveler, but honestly, I wish they’d both just come up for air once in awhile!

      We all have our own little niche of knowledge that we love to share. We all matter. We all have a message to share. I guess some people just need to command an audience when they are doing so. What really drives me CRAZY are statements that start with, ‘They say . . . or ‘I read that . . . or the actual quoting of numbers and statistics to appear like the ultimate authority when it is highly unlikely that someones brain can actually retain that much detail about so many different things!

      Years ago, as a La Leche League leader (support grp for breastfeeding moms) we were taught to preface our advice-giving statements with, “Many mothers have found . . . It was a beautiful way to step down off the pedestal of ‘know-it-all’ and leave space for the new mother to take what she could use from what was being presented and leave the rest behind. It was a comfortable place to lead from.

      Anyone remember the poem from Fredrrick Perls?
      I do my thing and you do yours.
      I am not in this world to live up to your expectations and you are not in this world to live up to mine.
      You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, then it is beautiful.
      If not, it can’t be helped.

      I have committed this to memory and have voiced it a number of times during my life when it just seemed like the best thing to say.

      I loved this post Jen. I loved all the contributions that followed it as well. It got me percolating! . . . and responding 🙂 and feeling better having voiced some of my ideas on the subject.

      Hugs and gratitude to all,

  7. OMG…this is so perfect. My husband thinks that since he once gave a talk on some women’s health issue that he now is expert enough to tell me what I should be doing in my business…and that he has knowledge of the experience of menopause! Is eye-rolling acceptable in these situations? Cuz mine are spinning these days!

  8. Lori Jo Vest says:

    Love your wisdom in knowing that you don’t have all the wisdom, Jennifer. I prefer to think that the older we get and the more we grow/mature, the more we know that we don’t know. And there’s joy in the learning, even in the painful learning, though it sometimes doesn’t show up until later.

    Those who feel they need to know everything in order to be “enough” are simply young souls on their way to the next learning.

  9. kim roberts says:

    Thanks for your refreshing candor! I’ve really enjoyed your blog recently! Keep up the Sass!

  10. SherriS. says:

    I had to laugh as I read your post because I can relate! I’m not unsubscribing by any means. I’m glad to know I’m not alone. I don’t discuss politics with anyone except my husband or my best friend because they have the same opinions. Otherwise I may start a feud with my family:-D

  11. Yes, yes, dear Jennifer! Compassion for you, compassion for me, compassion for us all — deep in our fearful, self-righteous soup together. Thanks once again for your brave honesty.

  12. Carol Hess says:

    This one made me laugh because I could completely follow the twists and turnings of your mind and logic, Jen. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not (*grin*), but it felt good. It’s comforting to know other people whom I respect also put their minds in pretzel twists when it comes to contemplating this self awareness stuff.

    I frequently find myself saying (or would that be pontificating?) to anyone who will listen, “Why can’t everyone just mind their own business?” But the truth is, if I’m not exactly mending other people’s business, I’m sure as heck keeping a pretty darned close eye on it! And why do I do that? Well, if I dig down deep enough, the answer is inevitably, “Because I’m afraid I’m not good enough.” Who isn’t afraid they aren’t good enough? And that alone is a darned good reason to be compassionate toward ourselves and others.

  13. Colleen says:

    Once again Jen, you have hit upon one of those Achilles’ heels. There was a time and a place when I was one of those “know-it-alls” and then I married a “know-it-all”. It quickly broke me of the habit. Funnily, you don’t know what you don’t know until you know. I definitely didn’t want to be one of thoses (anymore)!!! Now, I just have my own personal opinion about things. I don’t share unless I’m asked, but it has definitely shaped my journey. Each of us is allowed to have an opinion and to make choices based upon them, but it does not give us the right to tell other people what to do or “Lord it over” someone as if your opinion is the only one that counts.

    Love you ladies!

  14. Lee Anne says:

    So true! I also always have the urge to “help” people solve their problems which really serves as a costume for giving my opinion or sharing my knowledge. Ha! Did they ask me to solve their problem? No.

    Now that I’ve hit the big 5-0. I’ve learned something, a very important something. People have much to offer in the terms of experience and knowledge. Ask for it, absorb it and consider it! Be open and stand in the wonder of not knowing everything!

    Hanging up my Fix-It-Fairy wings…Lee Anne

    • Pegi Sarcomo says:

      Lee Anne,
      I loved your comments actually I am posting it to facebook; People do have much to offer, I’ve actually found that instead of getting gruff when they spout their knowledge I act like a sponge and soak it all in, then I research and make sure that they are correct, then I can also share my knowledge later on the subject that before I LISTENED I didn’t even know.
      Bang! I learned something, I’ve grown. Yea!

    • Jennifer says:

      Good for you for seeing the connecting between “helping” and “controlling.” A LOT of people miss that and feel free to inflict their “helpful” selves on the rest of us. Jen

  15. Pegi Sarcomo says:

    Goodness girl you hit the nail on the head for me this morning. I have been dealing with this as well. I too am in recovery…2 years and I am frustrated with everyone lately, and I mean everyone! Ispeak to my sponsor who almost always agrees the people in which I am flustered are walking a bit off the road, but who am I to judge their actions I know it’s me, oh shit IT”S ME!!! uggghh. Anyway as you say it’s a work in progress. Thak God i’m not expected to be perfect. I heard this, “it’s not Practice makes perfect, it’s practice makes progress.”

  16. Righteousness is so red hot sticky, isn’t it!

    I remember leaving an evening and being all righteous about how terrible one of the people was at communicating. As I biked home, I went on and on in my head about how wrong he was.

    Then I noticed how attached I was to being right. Catching righteousness in the middle of it was SO illuminating.

    I saw how righteous energy is very compelling and sticky and also very mental. A mental construct of fear and distancing to keep me safe and sound.

    Since then, I’ve been better at catching myself sooner, before I steep in a whirlpool of righteousness. I turn instead to my coaching training, seeing everyone as creative, resourceful and whole.

    Thanks for pointing this out, Jen. I think it’s very good timing as we head toward the election next week and as we all gird our loins for the battle.

    • Jennifer says:

      Indeed. Did you see the youtube clip yesterday of that poor little girl crying because she’s so sick of the election smarmy-ness??

  17. Love this! Brave and bold YOU! Perhaps, knowing you do not know is the approach to wisdom! Be well, Jen.

  18. Stephanie says:

    Best line ever: “They’re everywhere except where they need to be — tending to the rightness of their own (spiritual) houses.” It’s about each of us working on our own buttons – the proverbial boards in our own eye and not worrying about the sliver in someones elses. Love this post!

  19. Vickie says:

    Having hit the big 5-0, I feel like I have some life experience…finally!! And while being a know-it-all is a pain in the A**, being helpful and sharing some of the knowledge that has been acquired can be a blessing. How many times have people come back to me after a discussion (over tea?) to thank me for my advise (hopefully asked for 🙂 ?. All the posts I have read are from intelligent, compassionate women!!! We must share ourselves with a world that is sadly lacking in intelligence and compassion (do I sound like a know-it all????). Just saying……openness to assist is a blessing! Let us not forget this in our quest not to be arrogant.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi, Vickie. You make such a great point! The key difference seems to be offering help when it is asked, not thrusting our stuff upon others.

    • Dianne says:

      Yes Vickie! You are so right, it is important to be available to one another. It’s heartwarming when my adult children call to ask for help with something. Or when friends remark, ‘You are my go-to person for all questions about health and nutrition!’ No, I don’t have any formal training, I’m just a lover of real food who reads endlessly about health and nutrition. And all my life experiences make me a RESOURCE for my family and friends. And you are so right Jen, the key is waiting to be asked.

  20. Jeanette says:

    Yow! This is one of those posts that really makes me think: it was hard to learn how to finally use my voice and express my opinion; then, once comfortable doing so, realizing I must have skipped the lesson about ‘when’ to use this new skill. This post is heart-piercing, in that it nails a part of life I have really been working on. My poor husband! While it has become less common the more I have become aware of it, nonetheless, I am that harpy, who has a masters in education but no child of my own. I used the former to compensate for the latter and, for the first several years of our marriage, I had all sorts of opinions about how to raise his boys. I am sure I made him feel inadequate (an on-going apology as it was never my intent), but it was really my own inadequacies that I feared and exposed. Eventually, I realized he and his ex were doing just fine and nobody actually wanted my input. I got some therapy over what was really going on. Humbled (and empowered), I have started to live my own path again…but I am guilty of being his reoccurring nightmare, every now and then. Whew! This being human thing is HARD! (can I put the mirror down for a bit!?)

    Thanks for the power of this post and the courage it takes to write it.


    • Jennifer says:

      Yes, love. Take 5. Maybe even 10. That self-forgiveness piece needs to be a component of all self-discovery/recovery programs. We can’t give away what we don’t have, and, when I have shame or self-castigation over my former “not knowing” states, I am still part of the problem. I am still denying the glorious truth — that I TOO am a child of God and, as such, I get to claim my space as a work in progress.

      Thank you for your beautiful inspiration today.


  21. Jan in Asheville says:

    A wise sponsor once told me “Helping is the sunny side of control.” I have never forgotten that and believe me, it has been a long time to remember! Keep the Sass alive, my friends!! Jan

  22. Haha, yes truly – ‘Lately, I’ve been brushing up against a lot of know-it-alls out there’. And I got sick of it! And so I ranted too! As you say, who are we to criticise the know it alls, are we then know it alls or are we just glad they pitched up to scrape up a bit more anger we’d not noticed! I hope my post had as much compassion, or at least an understanding that each of us has choice, as yours!

  23. Laura D says:

    This reminds me of a story my Dad used to tell about my kids. From about the time my son turned 8 and my daughter 12 up to about their respective senior years in HS my kids would spend a week or two in the mountains at my parents’. One summer, Son about 8 was grilling Daughter on a long car ride (every where is a fairly long car ride there) He’d ask -what’s that? what’s that do? what kind of animal – why this – how that – as Dad told it Daughter patiently tried to answer his questions, but it wasn’t long before she grew weary and finally blurted “Oh! I don’t know!” to which dear brother responded (quite pleased with himself) “See, you don’t know everything in the whole wide world, do you?”
    Aren’t there some people you’d just love to be able to say that to? Aren’t we all sometimes someone would like to say that to?

  24. Wendie Tobin says:

    I suspect knowitall-ism comes from either insecurity about oneself OR from passion regarding the topic at hand. (But, what do I know?)

    I was one of “them” for many years, until I realized that it wasn’t part of my life plan to be in other people’s lane. My path is my path. If I can impart some worthy content to the masses, and that makes a difference, awesome! But, I still need to stay in my own lane. It’s very difficult, especially when I’m right and everyone else is wrong.

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