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Left panel of the Dreux Budé triptych: the betrayal and arrest of Christ,
with the donors Dreux Budé and his son Jean presented by Saint Christopher by Master of Dreux Budé (circa 1450)
" … a place where few will ever suspect you of the sin of full expertise."

When I call for a refrigerator repair, I hope an expert (but not too much of an expert) will show up. I prefer working with an upwardly mobile journeyman rather than a full master. The full master's likely to be dismissive and perhaps denigrate me for abusing the appliance while the journeyman will still be inquisitive and learning, and more likely personable. Masters tend to be grumpy and filled with apparently irrelevant details which they're anxious to share. I won't really want to learn the complete history of refrigeration, just enough information to get my machine working again. I'm even satisfied if the journeyman has to call back to the office for additional information. The expert who can complete the repair with his eyes closed scares me.

The problem with the experts in any field might be that they tend to scare the people with whom they interact.
They are, after all, wizards, and us regular folk find their flashiness intimidating. We cannot imagine ever trading places with them and cannot, for the lives of us, see their next insight coming. They seem to think too fast for us, and their flashes of brilliance tend to seem largely irrelevant. They can turn a simple question into a post-doctorate investigation when I just want a simple answer, even if that answer might mislead me or even materially misrepresent the underlying consequences.

Once the dedicated journeyman advances into true expertise, he's screwed. Those who used to relish working with him suddenly find him a rather boring companion, a tad too full of himself. He cannot help but elicit such reactions, for he's ascended the heights to transcend everyman's transitory concerns. He's master of both theory and practice by then, and most folks never manage to master anything in this life. He might just as well walk around wearing a gigantic orange duck suit for all that matters, he'll never fit into anything like polite company again. Small talk will have abandoned him and no worthy philosopher will have emerged out of the reeds. Mastering means fostering deep disconnection. Nobody will ever be able to relate to him again. Other masters will annoy him, he who sees right through their pseudo-mastery. He will likewise annoy his so-called peers. Achieving full expertise demands a long journey to arrive and find nobody else home.

One might find work as an adviser, though one's advice will just have to be watered down to become nice enough to apply. It will seem too caustic, too raw, to be used otherwise. The expert might well cry himself to sleep each night, surrounded by translating surrogates dedicated to dumbing him down for everyday use. He might write a book, explaining in precise prose how such and such actually works, only to later learn that nobody actually understood a word he'd written, interpreting everything from some absolutely ignorant position, then ascribe their misconceptions to him. Widely misquoted, his reputation might well grow until everyone at least knows his name, blaming him for everything he'd never actually considered. Such is fame. Others will want to associate themselves with him because, after all, he's better known, and, hoping themselves to one day qualify as noteworthy too, they'll shoplift with absolute impunity and endlessly quote him out of context in ways that amplify just how closely they worked with him. It will almost certainly seem as though they taught the master everything he knew.

When delving into the deeper reaches of any subject, I counsel great care. Go there, certainly, but never with impunity. Keep your head, for nobody else needs or wants to know what you will most certainly come to deeply understand. You might well come to be able to see right through whatever misconceptions bedevil your society and find nobody able to hear your story afterward. You might then set about mastering ever subtler practices, those intended to successfully cloak what you've come to know lest they get the wrong idea about you. With dedicated practice, you might eventually come to pass as an upwardly mobile journeyman with little more than a curious glimmer in your eye. Then you will have achieved the highest pinnacle of professional practice, a place where few will ever suspect you of the sin of full expertise.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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