Did you Really Know All Along? – Spoiler Alert: Probably Not

by Emily Henning | Thursday, Apr 04, 2024

One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is the utterly disheartening fact that, no matter how genius you think you are, you will never know it all. Unfortunately, a lot of people have yet to learn this fact. The issue is, we humans naturally exhibit this “know it all” trait, whether we mean to or not. The underlying fact is that as humans we like to be right. This may not sound like a big deal, but it can be a huge undetected threat that plays a significant role in how we interact with others. Specifically, it affects how we interact with (or think of) those in positions of power. 

Major and unpredictable life events plague society and impact our day-to-day life all the time, for example,9/11 the Covid-19 Pandemic, school shootings, etc. The issue is when major or influential events happen, the person possessing the most power tends to get blamed or praised for how the situation played out. Even with events as unpredictable as a pandemic, fighting over who’s to blame always ensues, thus altering our relationships with whoever disagrees with us and our opinion of whoever we believe was at fault. We tend to believe that somehow, we could have done better in the face of such unpredictable events than those currently facing them. This phenomenon is known as hindsight bias, which occurs when one looks back on past events with the notion of “I saw that coming” or “I knew it”. 

Although hindsight bias causing political conflict is extremely problematic, it can be worse in some everyday cases, for example the workplace. When you complain angrily that your boss should have known exactly what to do or how to handle a workplace conflict, you forget that they may not have known of any conflict brewing until the moment it happened. Your boss, teacher, friend, etc. would not be able to plan out a specific or appropriate response to an event that has not even come to pass; meanwhile, you can claim you would have known exactly what to do in any place of power and, in a fictitious scenario, “done it better”. The issue with this thinking is that it is incorrect, as you would never know exactly what you would do. In scenarios like this you have the privilege of time and hindsight, giving you the ability to contemplate right or wrong responses. Secondly, this phenomenon only garners conflict in social situations like these. After feeling you could do better, you may blame the “boss” for whatever negative impacts are caused by the conflict, thus leading to a buildup of resentment. All of which leads to further conflict; thus, the cycle repeats. 

So, the question becomes, what can we do? If we naturally tend to assume we could have done better to predict and prepare for the worst, how does one prevent judging others? I believe the best thing we can do is take a step back and examine what is happening. Despite our inclinations to do the opposite, we must remember that we don’t know it all, and we probably couldn’t do better. With that being said, there are people who make questionable decisions under pressure; however, that does not automatically make them a bad person. In other words, we underestimate the fact that the “boss” of this situation is being thrown a problem that must be solved in the heat of the moment. With this in mind, we should try to understand where exactly others are coming from before jumping to conclusions or insinuating that anyone else could have done better.