Sunday, October 24, 2010


We call them experts for a reason. They are supposed to know exactly what they're doing, and they are supposed to have a wealth of experience on which to draw. We consult with experts regularly. We rely on them to provide services. The experts do their jobs, and we trust them. But wait--is it really the best idea to rely on experts for everything without taking it upon yourself to know what you're asking for? And, if you're not an expert at something, is it really in your best interest, or anyone else's, to choose not to do what you CAN do in that area?

The example that dwells with me frequently is when adults who do not identify as singers pretty much refuse to sing anything and on the rare occasions that they do sing, they apologize for it or defer to other people who are experts. Not that I'd want just anyone who can carry a note in a bucket to be entrusted with the directorship of a chorus or a studio full of vocalists, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility that everyone be able to sing and not feel ashamed. It's certainly part of my mission as a music educator, even if I end up teaching orchestra again as I would prefer. People shouldn't feel as though they need to be experts to sing.

When it comes to issues of medicine, it is very irritating to doctors when the patients think that they know more than they do. After all, they're the experts, right? Just because we can read about diseases online doesn't necessarily mean that we have them. I'm recalling the hypochondriac character on Scrubs who decided that he had Yaba virus, which made no sense, and the doctor thought he was out of his mind.

However, it IS our job, even though we might not be medical experts, to be involved in our health. We need to eat well, get off our behinds, and be forthcoming with any information about abnormalities when talking to our doctors. We need to keep track of medical data for ourselves or whomever is in our care, because even though they go back and check it, it's nice to have as a talking point. We need to empower ourselves with as much information as we can get.

So instead of being either an annoying hypochondriac who spends too much time on Wikipedia or a person who just sits there and waits for a magic drug, we should take charge of our own health in the way that works best for us and our families.

In other areas of life, we'd do better if we knew what we were talking about. Even if we choose to pay for a certain service or seek consultation about something, it helps to be more informed. If you know a bit about cars, you can better describe to your mechanic what problem you have. Even without extensive knowledge of agriculture, you can still inform yourself about food production practices and decide what types of food you'd prefer for yourself.

There are experts in child development, too. You don't need to be one, but if you have a child, it's a subject that should be on your mind. It is remarkable how many parents think that their children are being bad when, in fact, their children are behaving appropriately for their age, and the parents expected something impossible for them (I'm thinking of toddlers being made to sit still and quiet at a restaurant with leisurely service practices and the parents are upset when the child fails to comply, or of toddlers knocking stuff over when it's right in front of them).

We need experts in our lives. It is important that certain subjects be addressed correctly. But we can do the experts a favor and know a bit about what we need before we go to them. Furthermore, we should feel free to take upon ourselves the "non-expert" tasks in a field. We can't fix our hearts or prescribe medicine, but we can learn about the lifestyle choices that protect our hearts. Not everyone can play an instrument, but it wouldn't hurt if everyone knew what they were. And, like it or not, we need to be experts on our own kids.

Are you an expert in something? Do you want to be?


areyoukiddingme said...

Strangely, I am an expert. :) I'm a forensic scientist, and I testify in court as an expert. You can read about the CSI effect on courts - it's a case of a little information can be harmful. Based on the TV portrayal of forensics, testing is short, results are immediate, and conclusions are written in stone. While everyone who talks to me about CSI says "I know it's not like it is on TV," they actually think there is plenty of truth to it.

There are two things to remember when dealing with experts. First, you should do your own research and use your common sense. If you are unable to do so, then, yes, you're pretty much stuck following the expert's opinion...because you aren't informed enough to make a reasonable decision yourself. Second, you must understand the context and scope of the expert's opinion. For example, you wouldn't want your general practitioner performing your bypass surgery - it's outside the scope of his expertise.

Experts have their value - my 2 years worth of training and 15 years of experience saves you the hassle of having to understand complex biological and physical forces when you're on a jury (if I am correctly trained to testify well). I can simplify it for you so you understand. You, then, are responsible for evaluating the things I say, and how I say them, and what relation they have to the rest of the information presented. But you still have to do some work yourself.

mamapoekie said...

We do need people who are highly skilled in their department... sadly, with the word expertise often comes this 'looking down upon the plebs' kind of attitude, and the idea that they know all there is to know.
And generally, in our society, experts are people who have been conventially schooled for many years, which has made them incapable of thinking out of the box, especially with doctors, who during their studies are induced this kind of superiority feeling that makes them - more often than not - incapable of seeing a) people as human b) people as thinking beings

and of course this is the same in many other fields too.

Also, I think that this question of authority and expertise needs to be redefined. I mean, OBGYN's who say you can't get pregnant while nursing don't strike me as quite the expert