The ignorance of expertise

He was a short man. Slumped shoulders. Scraggly facial hair. Sun-pocked, wrinkled skin. Wearing a suit and a snarky look.

He made it clear to me earlier in the conversation that he was an ‘educated man’ (after hearing that I didn’t graduate from college when I made mention of that fact to his wife).

“Self-esteem is important to kids. Change the name. It’s stupid.”

Stupid? Wow. Harsh words, old sport. Dirty pool.

A little context…

My wife started a company that works with high school kids to prepare for post-high school life — whether that be a gap year, college, a trade school, or a career. She named her company ‘Dunce Labs’. An intentionally polarizing name, the deeper meaning of which we’ll get to in a second.

We were at the graduation party she threw for this year’s seniors.

It was a happy event. Smiles. Congratulatory hugs and hand shakes. Libations, hors d’oeuvres, and a home-baked cake from Alex’s mom (I’m lucky, my mom-in-law is a chef).

The setting was gorgeous. One of our favorite restaurants overlooking Lake Tahoe. I, being the default marketing guy for the family biz, was getting it all on social media and all the other stuff I do at events like this one.

Even the wait staff loved it!

Now, if you don’t think too deeply about it, you might think her company name is offensive. If you’re like this ‘well-educated’ man, you might think the name of the company should be called Shining Star Students or A+ College Planning or Ivy League-Bound — something like every other run-of-the-mill company in her field.

But, if you were a curious person, one prone to empathy and learning more about things before making snap judgements/statements, you may ask why she would name a company who works with students Dunce.

And you’d find that it’s a statement. A statement that rebels against authority figures of the world who uphold the status-quo, delude the lowest common denominator, and are quick to place a proverbial (or literal) dunce cap on people who are actually quite brilliant in their very own way (much like this man was doing to me).

First of all, I don’t recall ever asking him any business advice.

Secondly, the name didn’t stop him from signing his son up (his son is awesome and I’m pretty sure he had to convince his dad to sign up).

Thirdly, is he so shallow and uncreative to think Alex would be so tactless as to blatantly offend her students by calling them Dunces in the literal sense? Apparently so.

From a marketing perspective, I must say, it’s a great filtering tool. She attracts kids and parents who get it. Who have a sense of humor, can see the deeper meaning in things, and are open-minded. Every once in a while, a square peg slips through the round hole. Like the one standing in front of me.

After looking around the room and seeing kids take photos of themselves in fake, colorful dunce caps and Harry Potter-esque nerd glasses, did he not see that the whole mission of this company — this movement — is to showcase the dunce cap in jest and to ridicule the whole concept of it?

This man thought he was teaching me a lesson. A self-described ‘educated man’ faced with an uneducated (in his mind self-educated is the same thing as uneducated) 30-something-year-old ‘marketing guy’.

In his head, he had me. Intellectually, he had me pegged as the lamb in the teeth of a mighty, all-powerful, wise, educated lion.

I’m sure he had visions that night as he drove home of me reflecting on his wise words and rushing to the Secretary of State’s office the next day to change the name of the company.

I sigh… I could rant all day about people like this.

I won’t go over the whole ‘empty cup’ story as you’ve probably heard it before (if not, here it is), but this man is the epitome of going through life with a full cup.

In his own mind, he’s had it all figured out since he got those letters stamped onto the back of his name back in 1970. Since then, he’s been an ‘expert’. An ‘educator’.

One thing the school of hard knocks taught me from an early age is to go through life as a student. Not as an expert.

I had to develop my own curriculum since I never resonated with ‘theirs’. Even writing these posts every day — I write not because I claim to know it all, but because I want to grow and learn and I know I’ll never reach the top of that mountain.

I also wouldn’t have it any other way.

Going through life as an ‘expert’ means you’re done. You know it all. Time to stop learning, stop wondering, stop empathizing. Time to dig your heels in and hold firm to your credentials.

Sounds like a pretty limited existence to me. I’d rather be a dunce☺


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Jonas writes daily essays and meditations at Medium. To get them delivered straight to your inbox as soon as they’re live, click here.