No to “Smarty Pants”: A Defense of Humility

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Better than ever logoWe at Arnett Development Group just spent some real money on upgrading our website, so we can let our potential clients know just how good we are. Additionally, we each take turns blogging as “Subject Matter Experts,” the holy grail of social media marketing. My pix shows up on this blog, as well as in the website and other strategic places. Until recently, my name and the company’s were the same. So a “Listen to me, I’m an expert” blog on humility may seem ironic, if not disingenuous. But here goes:

I don’t know.

There, now that I’ve said that, I feel better –  and counter-cultural, too.

In my field, I have some pretty good experiences, but some of that is from what did not work. From my good-fortune education opportunities, I’ve retained some knowledge and skills, but they, too, have a shelf life. I work with some real smart people, but they can only go so far making me look and sound like I have all the answers.

But I don’t.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 5.27.21 PMIs it just me, or does it seem that everyone that blogs, advertises, guest-speaks, or runs for office either says they know-all, or are expected to? My mom’s tender upbringing taught me to avoid the word “I” when I spoke (whoops, just did it…). One was not supposed to brag, or draw attention to themselves, and – worst of all – be a know-it-all. Should my mother really be peeved at one of us for this, she might even escalate the rebuke to the now-you’re-in-big-trouble “smarty pants” label, a sure indication of a dessert-less night.

Humility and its cousin, meekness, are often confused with weakness, or lack of resolve. I see them as necessary – if elusive – requirements for keeping an open mind to new solutions, encouraging a team-approach and encouraging collaboration. No, I’m not saying I want my doctor to answer my question about some illness with an “I haven’t a clue;” expertise is always essential, should you presume to help others in your area of gift. But being knowledgeable is not the same as always being right.

Confidence, yes, but self-confidence that becomes arrogance, no.

And I think I’m not alone. Listen carefully to the reasons why Brexit – or the very-low positives for either presidential candidate, or the angst against mass media and government –  and you’ll hear the anger about being talked down to. This candidate says if you don’t agree, then you are not as smart as they are. The other says that your disagreement derives from their moral superiority. And either drive me – and others? – nuts when they simply conclude that “they know what’s best for me,” and are surprised I don’t thank them for their enlightened benevolence..

In my field of economic and community betterment, there are a billion moving parts. Factors such as the local economy, demographics, real estate trends, new technologies, and local personalities and politics are just a few. We stay abreast of each as well as we can, and try to think and learn about what could work better.

But my experience has always been that the expert’s recommendation is best viewed as a starting point; that it is where we begin to discuss and learn – and rethink – solutions together. And that when several “I don’t know it all, but some of it, and I care about this community” people come together on a solution, it is better than mine alone.

Feel free to disagree, as I don’t know it all.

Better Than Ever by Stuart Arnett

Stuart Arnett redevelop hometowns through his company Arnett Development Group in Concord, NH, and is a founding member of the Better Future Alliance L3C, and has served as New Hampshire’s Director of Economic Development. He is the youngest of five sugar-fed boomers. You can reach him with your suggestions for city sites in need of remedy here.




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