Once again, XKCD says it all – “Share Your Knowledge With Joy”

In a recent XKCD post, Randall Munroe asks us why we criticise people when they don’t know something, rather than taking it as an opportunity to inform and delight them. After all, what is the actual benefit of belittling someone if they haven’t happened to have been exposed to the same information as you.

Well, that’s an excellent question. And, if you’re an educator, it’s the essential question.

We know that out students come to us without the information that they need. Because of this, they are regularly going to not know things and, sometimes, that’s going to be frustrating, but that’s what we’d expect.

I’ve run across it a few times myself when I’ve been surprised that people haven’t known basic (and to me common) terms in other languages like French or German. Why should they? I was raised in England, intermittently around French speakers, and have been exposed to European languages in one form or another for 40 years. I studied French at school and have German-speaking friends and colleagues, who I’ve visited. When someone doesn’t know what bon mot,  or soupçon means, that’s not actually an indicator of anything, except that they don’t know it yet. Ok, hand up in shame, I have, in the past, been obviously  surprised when someone didn’t know something but, over the last few years, I’ve worked really hard to curb it and try to be positive and informative, rather than being a schmuck.

After all, when I was a wine making student, a Microbiology PhD student sneered at me, quite effectively, because I didn’t know how to prepare a certain type of sample. The fact that I had never been shown, it hadn’t been a pre-requisite, and that it was actually his job to show me apparently eluded him on the day. Net result? 10 years later I remember being made to feel small but I still don’t remember how to prepare that sample.

I know what it’s like when someone decides to feel superior through exclusivity, rather than get a kick out of sharing the knowledge. Even if it wasn’t my job, even if knowledge sharing wasn’t something I enjoyed, even if it wasn’t the only ethically defensible choice – I should still be doing the right thing because I know what it’s like to be on the other side.

Thanks again, Randall, for a potted summary, in fun cartoon form, to remind us what it means to not be a schmuck.

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