Have you ever wondered what it is that compels people to give an opinion on topics that they have virtually no experience or knowledge of? I am not talking about political or social topics that are common and many of us have an opinion on, rather, topics that are more fact-based or scientific in nature where some expertise is required. I am sure you have faced many such people.
At a recent gathering with friends, there was this middle-aged woman who was giving medical advice on all kinds of illnesses. Among other things, she was claiming that a certain kind of stone attached to the body will prevent a heart attack or stroke and also cure many diseases. When asked what her profession was, I was told she is a full-time home-maker with a part-time career in Real Estate. Right across the room sitting among the guests was a Medical Doctor (Internal Medicine) who was simply listening to the conversation with a broad grin on his face. I asked the good doctor the same question. His answer: “people give an opinion because it makes them feel important.”
This phenomenon, although universal, seems to be more prevalent among some Iranians. I am sure you know many who are experts in Finance, Banking, Real Estate, Medicine, Immigration, Law (and any other topic you can imagine) without actually having any experience in such fields. I honestly do not know what compels people to offer their opinions, but here are some answers received when I posed the same question on an on-line professional forum: “Perhaps some people have nothing better to do or maybe at times people find that the less they know about a topic, the better their answers turn out to be!” Another friend mentioned “I am just waiting to come across an important problem in a topic of which I absolutely know nothing about. It's obvious I know a lot about the topic that you're asking. Or, “This nature that compels people to behave in the manner you cited is what, I believe, has pushed the boundaries of science and enabled discoveries into unknown territories. The only differentiating factor is some people stumble on to the right answers.”
It is safe to assume that people in general are very opinionated. They like to offer their opinions as fact or advice, whether we want to hear them or not. Sometimes these opinions are not even very relevant to the question. These are the type of people that truly believe they are superior and smarter than everyone else and can just ramble on about subjects they aren’t qualified to speak on.
The other side of this debate is the notion of “The Wisdom of Crowds” where some argue that if you take the sum of all the answers given by the crowd, it is as good as, if not better than, the answers you will receive from the experts. There is even a book written on the subject by the renowned New York Times journalist James Surowiecki. The aggregate of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, the author argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.
The book‘s opening anecdote relates Francis Galton's surprise that the crowd at a county fair accurately guessed the weight of an ox when their individual guesses were averaged (the average was closer to the ox's true butchered weight than the estimates of most crowd members, and also closer than any of the separate estimates made by cattle experts).
People who respond to questions usually feel they may have some insight into the situation. Whether that is true or not is up to the person asking the question to determine in their own mind. Thinking outside the box often entails answers the questioner would not normally find on their own. One of my professors used to say “anyone who says they know everything about any subject has just placed themselves into the category of ignorant. Nobody knows everything and those who claim they do are fooling themselves. If you don’t stretch, you don’t grow – and asking questions and receiving different answers is the only way to grow. “Obviously not all the answers are valuable, but they may offer a kernel of information that can make the questioner think about their subject differently and ultimately lead them in the proper direction.
As I think about the reasons for people answering questions in which they have no experience, I come across three possibilities: First, there are those who think they know everything and so answer everything. Second, there are those who answer because they know very little and would like others to assert or add to what they know, and finally, there are those who believe that the little they know might not be known by the experts and so their little bit of information might add to the experts' knowledge. Their little knowledge might just be the piece of information that was sitting outside the expertise box.
I also think experience and intelligent insight are two different things. There are many people with experience who have limited insight, intelligence, intuition or vision. There were people who thought that Barack Obama didn't have the experience to be President of the United States. Thank goodness there were MORE people who thought he possessed extraordinary vision, insight and intelligence. Many successful entrepreneurs had no experience when they started companies like Apple, California Pizza Kitchen, McDonald's, Google or Amazon.com.
No matter how much we know, there is always more to learn.
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