At coffee shop with a friend, the barista had on a black shirt with “Audre&Gloria&Angela&bell.” in white letters. My friend asked about the meaning of the shirt, and she said “Audre Lorde, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, and bell hooks.” I said “Oh, the writers,” to which she responded, “Yes, the feminists.” As we left the counter, my friend confided to me “I’ve never heard of these people.”

Truth be told, I felt a twinge of smugness, as if my awareness of these famous writers makes me a better person. However, should that be the case? Simply because I have more knowledge in a specific area does not mean that I can consider myself superior to him. I didn’t choose the school where I learned about these writers. Although I played some role in my education, I didn’t choose my teachers or the curricula or reading assignments. Moreover, there are things that my friend knows that I don’t, such as the thematic elements of the music of Wilco or how to configure a network. I have knowledge in some areas but not all, just as he does.

The general point is that it’s silly to feel superior to others based on life experiences. When someone says “You’ve never been to another country?! What’s wrong with you!?,” the translation is “You’ve never had this specific life experience that many but not all people in this society have experienced and may well not have been available to you? You are diminished in my estimation for not having a life experience that I have had.” Perhaps the other person doesn’t have enough money to travel. Perhaps they were war refugees and couldn’t get passports. Perhaps they have a major phobia of planes.

In short, don’t be smug.

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