In the Very Big City, once upon a time, O you Little Monsters, there was a Knowitall, and he knew everything. Or perhaps it was in the Impressive University, or the Efficient Workplace. I can’t recall which it was. It is just possible that the Knowitall was everywhere then, as he is today. Suffice to say that he was somewhere, and he knew everything there was to be known. He knew the depth of the ocean, and the height of the sky, and the speed of a thought, and the value of an hour well-spent, and the cures for all sorts of diseases–so!
There was one thing the Knowitall did not know, and that was how to make anybody like him. Whenever he encountered other people, and shared with them all that he knew, solved their problems and averted their wars, he found that they cast a bitter eye upon him, and treated him as the Fire might treat the Driving Rain, if the Fire but had voice to insult or hands to gesture rudely or a shoulder to turn coldly (in a fiery sort of way), or anything at all but tongues of flame which could not speak, but only lick the air.
(The Fire, O Little Monsters, once had voice and hands and shoulders all, but lost them. That is a story for another time.)
One day, as the Knowitall was telling the Unruly Squirrel how to carry his nuts, the Unruly Squirrel said to him, “Knowitall, I do not like you.”
The Knowitall hung his head in a sad but knowing manner and said, “I know.”
“No one likes you,” said the Unruly Squirrel.
“I know,” said the Knowitall. (He said this often.)
“Do you know why?” asked the Unruly Squirrel.
“I…” The Knowitall paused, and coughed, and scratched behind his ear in a queer sort of way. Something very peculiar was happening to him, and it unsettled him. It was something that had never happened before. He was being asked a question, and all he could say in reply was, “I don’t know!”
The Knowitall burst into tears.
The Unruly Squirrel laughed.
The Sun went down.
The Sun came up.
The Sun went down.
The Sun took a day off and read a book from the New York Times Bestseller list, and decided that leisure time was overrated; so the Sun came back up.
The Unruly Squirrel was still laughing.
The Knowitall waited patiently, for he knew exactly when the Unruly Squirrel would stop laughing. It happened precisely twenty-three minutes after the Knowitall stopped weeping.
“I haven’t laughed like that in years,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “I don’t like you, but I will help you, since I feel so good right now.”
“How will you help me?” asked the Knowitall. “Will you tell me why people don’t like me?”
“It will do you no good, for it’s a plain fact that people hate anybody who knows more than they do. You cannot change what you are.”
“But I do not know everything,” said the Knowitall. “I know everything but one thing.”
“Hatred doesn’t quibble over trifles,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “Hatred is pure.”
“But if I cannot change, how can you help me?”
The Unruly Squirrel narrowed his large (for a squirrel) black eyes and said, “Have you considered distraction?”
“I have considered everything,” said the Knowitall.
“Stop!” said the Unruly Squirrel.
“Do you mean, have I considered distracting people so that they don’t realize that I know everything?”
“No,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “I mean have you considered drawing people’s attention to how stupid other people are, instead of to how smart you are? If you show people how stupid another person is, they’ll be grateful to you, and never notice how utterly despicable you are.”
“Why would they be grateful?”
“Because, most people, deep down, believe themselves to be failures.”
“That is because they do not know everything but one thing, as I do,” said the Knowitall.
“Whatever,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “People feel like failures, and the only thing that makes them feel better is to know that someone else is an even bigger failure than they are. So, rather than spending your time showing off your knowledge, you should just tell people what they’re doing wrong.”
“And then show them how to do it right?” asked the Knowitall.
“Absolutely not,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “You just point out the error, give no help whatsoever, and walk away. Soon you’ll have more friends than the King and Queen.”
“But I can’t see how it’s right to bring people problems without solutions,” said the Knowitall.
The Unruly Squirrel sighed and sat down on his nuts. “Do you want friends or not?”
“I’ll try it,” said the Knowitall.
So the Knowitall walked until he found a Celebrated Author who had written a celebrated book. The author was reading his book to an audience, who was enjoying it immensely. The Knowitall knew every word in the book, of course, since he knew everything but one thing. He made his way to the front of the crowd, pulled the book from the author’s hands, held it up, and said:
“On the forty-eighth page of this book, the author says that a ray of sunshine weighs six ounces. A ray of sunshine weighs–” And the Knowitall stopped himself. He remembered the Unruly Squirrel’s words, and did not tell the Celebrated Author how to correct his mistake. He simply finished with, “A ray of sunshine weighs something other than six ounces. You are a terrible author.”
The crowd cheered. The Celebrated Author collapsed with an attack of asthma.
The Knowitall walked away amidst slaps on the back, toasts and offers of cash, and smiled. It did strike him odd, however, that he suddenly could not remember what was on the other pages of that book. Come to that, neither could he remember the weight of a ray of sunshine.
The next day, the Knowitall attended a concert by a Famous Composer. In the middle of the concert, he walked up to the stage and told the audience that the Famous Composer’s finger placement on the piano keys was off by a fragment of an inch. “You are a terrible composer,” he said. (No one even commented that perhaps he was merely a terrible pianist.)
The crowd gasped. The Famous Composer hung his head in shame.
The Knowitall exited the hall to thunderous applause. It was only days later that he realized he no longer knew how to play a piano.
And so it was. The Knowitall spent a year telling people their mistakes, but not how to fix them. And each piece of knowledge that he withheld from them vanished as well from his own head.
Soon he knew nothing at all.
And yet people still believed him when he said another person was wrong.
They still believe him to this day.