Have you ever looked down upon someone for not knowing ‘the obvious’? It is quite a surprise when the things you know to be general knowledge has somehow evaded the person you now assume has been ‘living under a rock’.
The best example of this would be Watson getting surprised when he realizes that Sherlock Holmes does not know about the Solar system. The reason for that, as quoted by Sherlock himself is, “What the deuce is it to me?”
“You say that we go round the sun. If it went round the moon, it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”
Knowledge is expanding with the growing world and at one particular moment, there is always more information in the world than any man can possibly be entirely aware of. Then the concept of ‘general knowledge’ comes into play. Every person grows up in a different atmosphere and is exposed to varied information every step of the way. It does happen that information shared by people with a common background, interest, field of study will overlap. An example of this would be the uniform education system which teaches every child the same subjects and topics which are thought to be most general, useful and instill a sense of ‘the obvious’ in their minds.
Yet, the family atmosphere of a child, the curiosity for different fields among other factors ensure that apart from the uniformly taught facts from the classroom, his mind is filled with other familiar facts and information, that will shape the child’s ‘common sense’. Even with a uniform syllabus and same subjects, different teachers and their different styles of teaching create a disparity among children in terms of their thinking whether it is by examples, through teaching as compared to bookish readings, additional information passed casually and whatnot.
The point, here, is that the son of a doctor would be more familiar with the term ‘hemoglobin’ than the son of a carpenter or even a philosopher. Over the years, as people go on living their own lives, they get exposed to additional information that is limited to their field of experience. A person who has been to a bar would be more aware of its happenings than someone who has never been there. Considering this, some slangs or points of reference that are common in the millennials would be unknown to someone born in the 70s. This, however, is not so shocking and comes under the basic belief of generation gap. Yet, if a 90s kid says that he is unaware about the meaning of ‘LOL’ or ‘Bromance’, it is awkward.
Often, a person is made to feel bad about lacking these pieces of information that have been termed as ‘general knowledge’. This information is what makes the basis of quite many competitive exams, it determines the intellect of a person and is often taken as the measure of how ‘aware’ someone is.
An Indian man who visits Japan for the first time would be taken as an imbecile even if he has learned Japanese when he pronounces a word wrong. Mispronunciation of words lands a person in embarrassing situations more often than not. This also works on the basic belief of ‘set standard for the way a word is to be spoken’. If by any chance, a person is unaware of this set standard or chooses to defy it willingly, the person becomes a laughing stock. This process is justified by saying that is there is no standard, the world will descend in chaos. Uniformity in knowledge, language, and ideologies is considered to be a necessity for ensuring order.
Whereas any deviations from what’s ‘general’ or ‘common’ or just the ignorance of such information altogether are enough to put the ‘dumb’ tag on someone.
This creates a sense of inferiority in the person for being exposed to a different field of experience. An example of this would be a technician sitting in the class of philosophy feeling as if he is stupid for not knowing or understanding anything that is being said.
The problem with this is that it stifles the curious mind and creates a dominant thought that ‘this is just not for me’. A person who would like to know about the subject he is unaware of will stifle his questions in a public setting just to avoid the ‘dumb’ tag. Moreover, people with a common field of experiences would much rather associate among themselves.
Along with creating isolation for people with different thoughts, ideologies, and experience, it also forces people to choose what is mainstream in society. It enforces the idea of sticking to the same field of experience that one gets familiar with over the years and never break out of it.
A person’s sense of identity in a society is much less associated with their actual self than what others think. It takes a conscious effort on part of individuals to start seeing themselves with their own eyes rather than a social mirror. Knowing that people will not always be exposed to the same information as you and making them aware about it, instead of looking down on them for it is a step in creating an inclusive society.
Ending this chain of thought with a question one must ponder upon. Are you stupid or just made to think you are?
The Pallavi writes