January 11, 2013
Sometime back, I was meeting a group of friends when something came up and one of them said, “What Bernie Madoff did was awful.” Honestly, I had never even heard of him before that day, let alone know what awful thing he had done. I don’t think anyone judged me for not having heard of him, but myself. When I came back and looked him up, I could only wonder why I hadn’t heard of him before. In fact, I didn’t even know how his name is spelled, and I struggled to look up the right person on the net. And then Wikipedia showed me the light.
Ever since, I have made it a point to ensure that I don’t look stupid in front of people. Sure, it is not possible for someone to know it all, but it is criminal not to stay abreast of the current affairs. Never again have I told anyone that I don’t like reading the news. It’s more important to know something about everything than know everything about something.
The problem is, I never grew up being encouraged to read news. My father religiously kept himself updated on the ongoing of the world and was stereotyped as “that guy who never shares the newspaper and spends hours reading it.” My mother on the other hand would scour the paper to look for information on movies, cookery, and fashion. And I heard this a lot from others, “I don’t even read the newspaper these days, the current state of the world depresses me.” However, how do you hang out with a group of smart, intelligent people when you cannot make a decent conversation with them? My evolution in this case was certainly need-based.
It is not just important to know it all, it is also important to have an opinion about things. Of course this comes with time and practice. But when there is so much to read about, how does one filter things? My areas of interest include literature, Bollywood, science, photography, scrabble, and solving puzzles, in no particular order. However, knowing a lot about your interest area is not enough, especially if you are targeting to launch yourself in the job market. You need to be able to make conversation with a wider audience. You might meet a group of people talking about Chanel perfumes, Bofors scandal, gun legislation, avocado salad recipes, and Pulitzer prize winners in the same room. How do you mingle with everyone if you do not know a little bit of everything?
So I make sure that I at least skim through the news headlines daily. Washington Post, Huffington Post, Drudge Report, The Chronicles of Higher Education, are some of the usual suspects. Then there is merit in knowing the best places in town to dine, wine, or go around (Yelp helps me with that). My adviser has an interesting theory about skimming through large chunks of information, he compares it to eating a bowl of rice. You need not chew your way through every morsel, every grain. It is enough to do some basic chewing. I really like his analogy.
So never shy away from knowing the world around you, because everything will affect you, directly or indirectly. Pay attention to what people are talking about, in cocktail parties, on Facebook, etc. And make Wikipedia your best friend. With all those resources the internet provides, there is no excuse, absolutely no excuse for being ignorant.