The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
Colleges often encourage too much talking
By SHANE PECH,
Published: May 30 2012
As my friend Colene Lofton — who saves my column every week — would attest, for the last two years, my picture has accompanied at least 600 words of long-winded rumination in this paper. Along the way, I’ve learned much about all my topics — through research, thought and feedback for all the stupid things I say — but one pleasantly ironic truth has risen to the top: one needn’t have an opinion on everything.
I understand that, coming from me, this concept may be hard to swallow. I’ve written about everything from modesty to cultural diversity, and those who have had the misfortune of having class with me know that I never shy away from contributing my thoughts and questions, no matter how little I know about the issue at hand.
But as I thought of what I would leave you — students, staff and faculty — with before I graduate and am replaced by new, better people, it occurred to me that the best advice I have to give is that which I’ve taken four years to learn.
It’s a shame it took that long; it’s been under my nose the whole time. Proverbs 17:28 makes it plain, saying, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
This, of course, flies in the face of collegiate wisdom. Isn’t the smartest student the one who has an answer for every question? Some of us think that way.
But the truth, hard as it is to swallow, is that having an answer for every question and an opinion on every topic ultimately portrays insecurity far more readily than intelligence.
Psychologists have even given the syndrome a name: “Answer Syndrome.” The syndrome suggests that many — particularly males, research suggests — show a tendency to answer questions whether or not they have any idea of the answer. Even if we don’t label it a “syndrome,” it’s clear that answering questions triggers some sort of Pavlovian reward mechanism — that is to say, answering a question correctly feels really good, so we try to repeat that sensation.
But while the source of Answer Syndrome is simple, the solution is even simpler; all we need to solve it is one phrase: “I don’t know.” Or better yet, silence.
For people like me, that solution is anything but easy. When we’ve talked ourselves into knowing everything, it can be hard to break the cycle. We even concoct elaborate justifications for our know-it-all ways, saying that we hate uncomfortable silences in classes or that we feel bad for teachers who endlessly fish for participation.
For the sake of learning, though, and for the sake of being quality, humble human beings, there are few better lessons for college students to learn than the incontrovertible truth that we don’t know everything. In fact, we know almost nothing.
If we approach life assuming we have much to learn and little to teach, we will end up learning and teaching far more effectively.
Think of the people you admire most. Are they constantly talking out of their, ahem, behind? Or are they willing to ask questions, admit ignorance and listen?
For some of us, these traits come naturally in the form of shyness; to answer even when certain requires courage. For others among us, keeping silent requires courage as well. When you’ve spewed your opinion for a long time, silence can be scary.
But if there is one thing I know that I can say without fear of overstepping my knowledge, it’s that the best thing we can do is to challenge those fears. For the shy, that means stepping up. For people like me, that means stepping back.
It’s been a pleasure to fill this column these past few years, but the time has indeed come for me to step back, as I am fresh out of opinions.
Staff reporter Shane Pech is a senior creative writing major at Seattle Pacific.
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