The only smart guy in the room

As I’ve opined, everyone can be the smartest guy in the room about something.

But no one can be the only smart guy in the room. Surprising, therefore, how many guys try.

You’ve known at least one of them, I’m sure. Maybe in high school, in a history or political science class. Or in our political fora.

He’s the guy who takes over the room with his opinions, ripping anyone who disagrees with him. Indeed, his methodology is to leave no space in which anyone could disagree. He insists on being the smartest boy in the room, the Mouth from which the Word was delivered.

Nowadays I encounter these people on TV news shows and am grateful for the mute button. But one I knew personally. He is known to all my friends and relations as L2, because he was the second (and lesser) L in my life.

L2 was smart-ish. That is, he was smart about certain specific areas of life. This made him no different from anyone else.

But L2 presented himself as the only smart guy in the room.

Throughout my life, I’ve been tickled whenever I’ve found myself in a room with very smart people. L2 managed to thwart my delight. Whenever we were in a room with other people, L2 dominated the conversation with matters he knew a great deal about. It wasn’t conversation; it was monologue.

L2 had a technique for controlling the room. In a friendly manner, he’d ask one person a question on a subject of which he himself either was fully cognizant or could appear to be fully cognizant. Then he’d talk about it. And talk about it. Sometimes he’d shift to another subject and permit another person to supplement what he was saying, and then he’d grab it back onto his territory.

Does it sound as if I found L2 annoying? Oh yeah. For one thing, it made it hard for me to get to know others in the room, to find out how they were smart and interesting.

One day, L2 and I visited a couple of my cousins, who had a friend staying with them. So there were three adults besides us, and a couple of children.

L2 launched into his smart boy routine. Unfortunately for his performance and my attitude toward his performance, I knew the three other adults in the room were verifiable geniuses, themselves fascinating on a huge variety of subjects but, unlike L2, without the compulsion to engage in competition for domination. The kids were equally wonderful to hang out and talk with. (All of them remain so; dinners with my family are both dazzling and hilarious.)

That was when I realized L2 wanted more than to be one of the smartest guys in the room. He needed to be the only smart guy in the room.

If you find yourself in a room with a guy like that, leave the room and dump the guy.


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