Have you ever encountered someone who thinks they know everything about everything? Do you think it is actually possible to be an expert in every possible field?
When I meet someone like that – and believe me, there are more such people than you might assume – I generally think about Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci is known as being the most famous Uomo Universale, or Universal Man. This term basically describes those individuals who, throughout history, have helped society and humanity itself progress and evolve by the sole virtue of their open and inquisitive minds, which opened up new vistas of perception and thought. Da Vinci in particular – it is true – was also a genius in many categories, not only art and proportion, but also mathematics, engineering, architecture, astronomy, literature, anatomy, botany, history, science and cartography, amongst others.
The Universal or Renaissance Man was accomplished in many subjects, however his main trait was that of always being open to learn new ways of looking at the world – his curiosity.
On the other hand, people who claim to already know everything – those who sit upon self-wrought pedestals of intellectual or moral high-ground; the wisecracks, the smarty pants – are actually those who think their own personal thought and perception is so lofty, grandiose and better than anyone else’s, that they actually end up closing their minds, hearts, and eyes to further learning and knowledge. Content to bask in their own self-approval, they unconsciously refuse to reach out to others in order to apprehend new experiences or new ways of thinking, since they believe that THEIR way is the best and only way.
So what are we to call these kinds of people? Narcissists? Most certainly. Snobs? Intellectual ones, perhaps. Just because someone is egotistic and vain doesn’t mean they’re not smart. This may mean that some of these people actually do have something to brag about, but still, their incessant arrogance, the shameless belief that they’re better than anyone else, as well as their sense of entitlement because of this, serves not just as a detriment to their own personal development, but also as a way of isolating them from others, who, understandably, would generally find them unpleasant, irritating or overbearing. No one likes a patronising attitude.
Perfection doesn’t exist in nature, least of all in human beings. Everyone has flaws. The fact that some people actually think they have no flaws could be their main flaw. This kind of behaviour, which in most cases stems from some kind of mental condition or is a symptom of low self-esteem, generally creates other serious issues, such as a lack of empathy, problems in sustaining healthy relationships, hypersensitivity to imagined insults, denial of mistakes made, and could also result in the exploitation of others, since the Narcissist would deem other individuals to be beneath himself.
What is not commonly understood perhaps is that such people tend to actually be codependent on their audience. They need to feel like they’re the centre of attention; that others are looking up to them and heightening their sense of self, in order to function. Of course, not all the traits mentioned above are of detriment – since most are perfectly normal to a certain degree. However, when one actually starts to believe that they know what is best for others, even though the other person themselves states that they want something completely different, or when one starts demeaning anyone who thinks differently than they do, then we actually start perceiving glimmerings of megalomania.
Unfortunately, I’ve had the dubious pleasure of observing a number of wannabe Universal men and women at close range throughout the course of my life. They were hard to recognise when I was younger, since I was interested and eager to learn from everyone and everything, and usually ended up taking everything at face value. Today, I must say that I’ve learnt to distinguish between those who actually have knowledge to impart, and those who merely like hearing the sound of their own voice. Of course, something can always be learnt from everything, and no one can, in all confidence, be judgmental of others since everyone has their own idiosyncrasies to bear.
Still, individuals who think they know it all so much better than everyone else tend to fascinate me, in that it surely takes a massive mental creative effort to convince oneself of such a thing. Human evolution takes place in many ways after all, although I’d be hard put to describe self-delusion as one of them.