Books, for many of us, have become trophies to demonstrate superiority over our peers. News articles are regurgitated to broadcast our worldliness, and documentaries are not watched for enjoyment, but rather for proving our intelligence in our next conversation.
Having grown up alongside Hermione Granger — beloved by Harry Potter fans for her encyclopedic knowledge — many on this campus seemingly try to continue her legacy by emulating her know-it-all presence. Although the “Hermione Complex” is a lovable quirk for a fictional character, it has created a toxic campus environment that perpetuates learning as a means to succeed rather than an act of curiosity.
Motivational speakers have expressed that “the greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance — it is the illusion of knowledge.” Although we relegate this to our box of cliche sayings, the statement holds true.
A study by Cornell University and Tulane University found that self-proclaimed experts often overstate their knowledge, professing knowledge of concepts that do not exist. For students at Georgetown University, this fixed mindset not only prevents the active pursuit of knowledge, but also fosters belief in detrimental misinformation.
Know-it-all culture also ostracizes and cultivates inferiority among students who do not conform. During my first year at Georgetown, I have come to recognize a common pattern: Most of my peers are merely pretending to be experts, posturing against one another as if knowledge has become a competition. Just this past year, some of my classroom discussions have derailed into heated and personal debates, each side growing more defensive until one student finally lowers their head in defeat, made to forget the intent of the discussion: learning from the opposing views of others. Still, some students cannot see past others’ masks of confidence, which may lead to shame and isolation, both of which are detrimental to their self-esteem.
This loss of confidence is further exacerbated by the stigma surrounding mental health care; seeking help at Counseling and Psychiatric Services or even privately admitting to our emotions of inadequacy often feels like weakness. If students continue to perpetuate this know-it-all complex and begin to disregard available health resources, the existing cycle of low self-esteem will envelop our entire community.
As a freshman, my initial eagerness to learn and fit in with the rest of my peers has dampened. After watching simple, mundane common room conversations devolve into self-important speeches, I eventually grew tired of trying. I cannot count how many times my thought-out arguments have been interrupted by a defensive, self-righteous, “Actually, I watched a documentary on that once…” or “I recently read an article about this…”
I do not put blame solely on my classmates. As college students caught between the naivete of childhood and the realities of adulthood, we have to present ourselves as self-assured to be respected and heard. After 18 years of being treated delicately, our society expects us to suddenly be full of wisdom and maturity and become functional members of our community.
We hide our personal insecurities behind loud voices, our doubts shadowed by confident smiles. To our peers, professors and parents, we present armor of false composure. Sadly, many of us end up overreaching into arrogance in a desperate attempt to balance self-praise with self-confidence.
Of course, I do not mean to suggest students should not share knowledge with each other. We can only cultivate diverse communities if students share their distinctive perspectives and cultures. Still, a fine line exists between engaging in productive discourse and purporting to be an expert on the facts of the universe as an 18-year-old college freshman.
Rather than being afraid to reveal weakness, we must promote a culture conducive to questions and appreciate the inherent value of learning for its own sake. Rather than rejecting opinions and suggestions in favor of celebrating our own ideas, we must allow conversations to continue and learn to respect each other. We need to set realistic expectations for both our college environment and our classmates.
After all, not everyone could have learned all the course books by heart before getting on the Hogwarts Express.
Elaine Chia-Tzu Liu is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business.