This past summer, I lived and interned in Washington, D.C. While I was there, I learned to love D.C. for its quirks. I loved that after work meant going to happy hour and that, as a born-again omnivore, there was a never-ending supply of burgers to try. I loved picnics in Meridian Park for lunch and runs by the monument at night.
But as much as I enjoyed being in D.C., there were some things I just couldn’t get used to: The muggy days didn’t do it for me, nor did the long waits for the always overcrowded Metro.
What I really couldn’t stomach was how certain all of my fellow college-aged interns were about everything. On the Red Line to Union Station, I heard a Senate intern announce with absolute confidence that “Hillary has these next two terms in the bag. We’ll have Gov. O’Malley after that, but for only one term. After that, you know, we will gotta swing back, so a Republican for two terms. Not sure exactly who yet.” I also heard other twenty-somethings announce their “politically viable” plans to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, income inequality and our public education system. They all knew exactly what they were talking about.
At first, I was impressed and even jealous of how self-assured they were. However, I soon realized how this very certainty was actually blinding them, making them unwilling to hear the opinions of others — or even just the facts.
In my head, I blamed their parents. They must have praised their kids for tying their shoes for the 100th time or remembering to say “thank you” at age 12 — all in the name of their children’s self-esteem.
I blamed the colleges they attended, too. I knew that these schools — like ours — constantly remind them that they are the smartest, they are the elite, they are destined for greatness.
But then I realized that I myself was a little too certain. After seeing “Fruitvale Station,” I caught myself saying, “It will win the Oscar for Best Film. The Academy will want to make a statement.” I also began to announce the results of the upcoming New York City mayoral race — four months too early— based off nothing except my own emotions.
This epiphany didn’t hit me until a couple of weeks later. A family friend had gone to the emergency room a few days before, but was dismissed. The emergency room doctor said it was just a virus and that it would pass. Well, it turns out that the doctor was wrong and our family friend had both pneumonia and a virus the hospital couldn’t identify. For two days, a resident tested out different antibiotics on him, hoping that one would work. His parents were told that he might not make it. A week later, he was discharged from the hospital, but significantly weaker.
I don’t know if it could have gone any differently. Still, I found myself wondering if the resident could have called on an older, more experienced doctor instead of waiting and guessing. Perhaps it would have saved my friend and his family from this terrifying experience.
At the same time, it’s certain that I don’t know what could have or might have, but in the end, it clicked: I have to acknowledge the limits of what I do and don’t know.
So, the next time someone mentions some intellectual-sounding book I don’t know, I won’t nod and smile like usual, and when someone asks my opinion about what’s going on in Egypt, I’ll admit I haven’t been following the news too much. It may sound ignorant, but hey, at least it’s honest.
Zoe Stahl can be reached at email@example.com.