I’ve been thinking about a couple of cigar related things in the wake of a discussion on Half Ashed’s previous episode, one of which I’d like to throw out some thoughts on today. I’ve been contemplating what a cigar “expert” might be. I don’t consider myself an “expert.” I’ve been smoking cigars for a very long time, and have consumed far more than probably 95% of all cigar smokers on an annualized basis. I’ve even picked up a few bits of useful knowledge here and there about cigars and tobacco – growing, processing, aging, blending, rolling, marketing, distributing….you name it. But, I frequently encounter folks who truly are experts. People who are born, bred, live, die, breathe, and bleed tobacco. Without fail, this goes to demonstrate what I don’t know. I don’t even know what the criteria would be for establishing expert status….I just know the mass of knowledge I don’t have is greater than that which I do. I fully acknowledge that body of information of which I have no grasp….which brings me to the point.
I recently came across a new cigar review site via Twitter. I won’t give the name because I’m not looking for a feud of any kind. This new site, however, presented itself (and its founder) as a self-proclaimed “connoisseur and aficionado of fine cigars” who wants to share his “knowledge of the leaf with those less learned.” But, once I got further into the “About Me” page, it was revealed (in very fine print, deep within the page) that this person had not smoked a cigar until less than 6 months ago. I’m all for anyone firing up his or her own blog or review list – in fact, I would encourage that. I think it’s good for us to share our passion and knowledge base. However, I think it’s gauche to go around declaring yourself an expert with so little experience. It’s even more of an offense to bury that admission within a lengthy dissertation of self-proclaimed experthood. Passion can take you a long way, but from 0 to expert in 4-5 months is probably pushing it. Although I don’t think achieving this status is entirely time-dependent, I believe there is a baseline in human learning so correlated to time that short of being a savant, is insurmountable.
If one is passionate and sees him- or herself as an expert (currently, or in the future), it might be a bit more apropos to let that work itself out in practice. I absolutely don’t “get” the commonplace mindset that a broader knowledge base in topic “x” somehow makes one a better human being, which is often the driving force for such a premature self-immaculation. There are plenty of jackwagons in any field that are vastly knowledgeable – yet remain an ass in the eyes of the public due to arrogance or poor ability to share that knowledge without conceit. There are also people who would declare themselves among the intellectual elite of a certain field/industry, while barely scratching the surface of its intricacies. In my eyes, a real expert doesn’t have to tell you they are. Additionally, there are those who quickly admit to their inexperience but conduct themselves with humility and courtesy while seeking to learn. They quietly go about their business, learning what they can when they can; absorbing and tucking away every bit of information into their growing arsenal of wisdom. These are the folks that quietly reach the expert status while that last group is plugging away and stagnating because they’ve turned off the very people who could educate them.
I think I’d prefer to be a wide-eyed (even if perpetual) neophyte in any hobby, seen as someone passionate and eager to learn at the feet of a Master than to present myself as some sort of tobacco Yoda who quickly opens my mouth to reveal the self-overestimated reality of my understanding. Be open about what you know – and don’t know. Be inquisitive. Be humble. That’s the quickest way to have someone to share what they know.
Now I’m sure most of us, at one time or another, have shared some myth or “old wives’ tale” as gospel truth because we didn’t know better. It happens. When it does, and you’ve been shown the error of your ways, be accountable. Take it for what it is – an opportunity to learn something new. Investigate what you learn. Don’t learn rote facts; find out “why” something is the way that it is. Like anything else, knowing the “how” and “why” of tobacco is of far greater value than just knowing that it is. More importantly, admit what you don’t know. It gives you something to pursue. There’s nothing wrong with passion; in fact, there is much “right” with having it. As my (real) expert Half Ashed cohost is prone to say, he is “passionate about passion.” Passion is what will drive you to new heights of understanding in any field of study. But, no amount of passion in the world can overcome a lack of exposure, learning, and experience.
Just my opinion. Make it yours :).