On a thoughtful walk the other day, my mind wandered back to college days. The 1970s were heady days on college campuses with idealism blossoming in every young person’s heart. Human rights, peace, freedom, the end of old cultural blinders. How bright the world looked!  We believed we could do anything!  We were invulnerable!

What stands out to me so many years later is the feeling that all of us could change the world into a new place. Some made their mark through protests and marches. Others through ‘dropping out’ of commercial society into communes and other forms of experimental living.

Most of us continued through college, combining activism with education with more traditional organizations like student government, various clubs, interest groups and sports.

Among us in the student senate was a master of Robert’s Rules of Order whose frustrating manner we occasionally run into throughout life. A know-it-all.

A know-it-all, in my perception, is someone who knows things for the sake of showing he knows them. I don’t pretend to have the psychological background to explain why some people must continually dismiss or disrupt others, but they do.

Michael Kann (name has been changed) was an expert parliamentarian. He knew every twist and turn of the Rock-Paper-Scissors of Robert’s Rules. One rule always trumps another move trumps another rule trumps another move.  Whenever a Rule could be applied, he applied it.

“Point of order!”

But, sadly, Michael Kann’s goal was never to move along the discussion. He never worked to join people together in consensus. He didn’t have any goal with his maneuvering. His continual interruptions served only to delay, deny and run out the clock.

There was never a sign he realized any of this. He only wanted to practice his knowledge, regardless of the impact upon progress.  Senate meetings were not an opportunity for accomplishing great things – to him – they were only a showcase for his … exercise of details and nit-pickings.

Discussions on social or student goals, budgets and policies were repeatedly interrupted with technical procedural objections, diversions, delays. It took forever to bring anything to a vote. Michael Kann didn’t care about the results of the votes. He never really took a position on anything, other than employing Robert’s Rules to their maximum use.

He was a person brimming with knowledge – arcane and not always applicable – but expert in it, who had no idea how to relate to other people, who had no idea how others perceived him, who had no judgment about when his knowledge could be valuable and when it was best left unused.

Interestingly, this made him supremely confident, even aggressive at times, although he was a small person, physically. He didn’t hesitate to call a halt to whatever was taking place to exercise the latest opening  for a parliamentarian play. He didn’t hesitate to challenge professors or college administrators  or anyone anywhere on anything at all.

Michael Kann went on to law school and some success running his own firm. But his inability to understand the limitations of  one form of knowledge or the sociable practice of knowledge in coordination with others brought him many problems. Because he was sure he had full grasp of some things, he believed he had full control of all things.

Perhaps perfection is sought in an effort to cover other flaws?  Striving hard to paper over a defect with an area of absolute control?   I just don’t know where it comes from.

– – – – – –

Years passed and his body was found on the side of an isolated road, robbed and beaten by a  streetwalker picked up in a rough part of town, having never formed a lasting relationship.  His Mercedes was found later, burned.

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