Diaries Magazine

The 'Expert' Trap?

Posted on the 19 September 2022 by C. Suresh

I have always wanted to be looked up to as an expert...on something or the other. You want to be a famous cricketer like a Tendulkar or a Kohli but all this waking up early, putting in hours at the gym and the Nets etc etc...that's a bit too much, no? Even assuming the talent. That's the way I felt about this Expert thing. I loved the idea of BEING respected as an expert but this process of BECOMING one...that was really off-putting.

But, then, one day I realized that it was not even necessary to become an expert in order to be SEEN as one. (Ah, no, no...you do not get to be seen as the new Don Bradman without even knowing which end of the bat to hold. But, under some circumstances and for some audiences, you could get to be seen as the man who knows what's wrong with Kohli's batting.) And...that there were pitfalls in being seen thus. Alas, nothing in life seems to be all pleasure.

It happened this way. There I was, sitting in a corner in a wedding function, musing about the thusness of things and this group of guys lands up.

"There he is! He is the expert on fertilizers. Let him tell you about the Farm Bills."

Uh! I mean, I sit in my company filling in data into forms to claim fertilizer subsidies, wondering how I end up making computational errors even when I use spread-sheets, and now I am the expert on fertilizers who can discuss the pros and cons of the Farm Bills? How can I admit I know zilch, though? People are such wholesale characters that, the moment I say my expertise is limited, I'll immediately become the useless chap who knows nothing and has been set to counting pins in his office! I mean, it's not like I'll only lose my reputation for knowing things about the Farm Bills; I'll get the reputation of a useless know-nothing. Who wants that?

I did manage to say something without doing lasting damage to my social respect. And, then, a couple of hours down the line, there was this chap talking on the phone to someone, "I tell you. THIS is the way it is with Farm Bills. I just talked to the foremost expert on the matter."

Ahem! There it goes, expert to foremost expert and my impromptu blabbering now the expert opinion on the subject...for some, at least. Come on, yeah, some people probably are going to propagate an erroneous impression on that matter but what would you have me do? Lose all social respect in my circles? Have people tell me, "What the hell would you know about anything?" whenever I open my mouth on any subject? Before casting stones at me, check if you have acted any different in similar circumstances.

I mean, if you are a Orthopedic surgeon, and someone in the family comes to you with a MRI of the brain and asks for your opinion, do you say that, since there are no bones in the brain, you can say nothing about it? Do you not look wisely at it, trying to dig out what you studied in your MBBS, throw in a few Latin words and cap it with 'Better check with your neurosurgeon' and recommend a few names? If, however, the question is of some medical policy of the Government, where a life is not directly involved, do you not offer an 'expert' opinion, though you know yourself that your opinion is no more expert on THAT issue than the ordinary Joe mouthing off in the tea-stall? Why blame me then?

You know, come to think of it, I can get off lightly. If I were a University Prof...Ye Gods! Now those are the guys who are supposed to know everything. I mean, yeah, you may be teaching mechanical engineering but you mingle with people who are the experts on sociology or philosophy or whatever. That, essentially, means that for the rest of us you shine by their reflected glory. In other words, for us YOU are the expert on anything under the Sun. Fail to answer confidently and it is either, "I pity the students who learn from this ignorant guy. Academic standards have fallen" or "Too high and mighty to talk to the likes of us" - take your pick.

Maybe, just maybe, the trick to navigate this expert trap is to convince yourself that you are the expert. After all, it is easy to be confident when the others around you think of you as the expert, so you can spout your opinions as though they are solid fact. Don't know, really, if many people are capable of doing that, though, even if, over the years, they accustom themselves to thinking of themselves as always right.

For the life of me, though, I cannot understand why people seem to attribute expertise on a variety of subjects to celebrities. I mean, like, why should the opinion of, say, a Tapsee Pannu OR a Kangana Ranaut on Farm Bills be of relevance? Why do they get asked their opinions about such things. Come to think of it, my own 'expert' opinion on that issue was more expert than they can offer. And yet...

Anyway, after that limited limelight of being the 'expert', I'm happy that I'm a nonentity. With my character oriented towards not offering ignorant opinions, as far as possible, I'm afraid that, even if I did BECOME and expert on anything, I will not STAY an expert, in other people's eyes, for any length of time!

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