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Please stop with the X things every Y should know trope

Posted on:January 4, 2024

Every few weeks, I stumble upon an article or book titled “What Every X Should Know About Y.” You’ve likely seen them too, so I won’t bother linking any. While these pieces are typically well-intentioned and perhaps even meant to be tongue-in-cheek or provocative for clicks, the title and attitude it conveys is condescending. There are indeed some groups of people who genuinely need a specific set of knowledge – for example, every EMT should know how to perform CPR. If that’s you, feel free to ignore this.

However, many of these articles come from knowledge workers, technologists, and those in various business roles. The general vibe goes like this: the authors claim to know certain things and therefore insist rather pompously that you should know them too. It’s akin to “No True Scotsman” gatekeeping.

Many of us possess vast amounts of knowledge, but there’s so much more we don’t know and couldn’t possibly grasp. With an ever-expanding array of tools, techniques, nuances, and data points, it’s simply ridiculous to assert that everyone should know what you, the “wise” author knows, and by extension insinuating others aren’t good enough.

The beauty of being yourself and working with others lies in our diverse pools of knowledge and perspectives. When we collaborate with others who know and do similar or different things than us, we create a rich tapestry of ideas.

There are better ways to share your expertise without resorting to hyperbole or putting yourself above others. Instead, try saying, “Here are some great things to know,” or “These are the things I wish more people were aware of.” Let’s move away from absolutes and foster a more inclusive environment for sharing knowledge. So please, just stop with the “What Every X Should Know About Y” approach. Knowledge is too dynamic. We don’t need the prescription.