It was a mid-term biology exam. A big-ass multi-layered set of quizzes and tasks. A major portion of the exam was particularly devilish. A week or so earlier, we had been given a list of about a half dozen different topics that we might have to write about in great detail. On the day of the exam, we would each open our personalized exam and see which two topics we must then write about. So we were forced to prepare a half dozen different sets of knowledge, but only two of them would actually be written about on that day.
So I gambled. I didn’t prepare all of them. I prepared, I think, four of them and trusted my luck that neither of the other two would be chosen for me. Well, Lady Luck was not on my side that day. One of the topics was indeed one that I had not researched at all. The description was something like this:
Choose and discuss a particular drug with regard to its development, uses, abuses, addictive properties, consequences of overdose, and remedies.
Well… there seemed no point to just throwing in the towel, so I decided to go for it. Nothing wishy-washy here; you can’t let them see you sweat; just a complete mountain of B.S. I decided to pull an enormous, detailed essay completely out of my butt. I chose an unexpected drug that the teacher would be unlikely to already know much about – I chose Novocain. I figured the teacher might already know a lot about such obvious targets as aspirin, heroin, or amphetamines, so this was my way of trying to sneak around his knowledge while still choosing something utterly commonplace.
With great apparent confidence, I described in loving detail the advancing paralysis, negative effect on heart, lung, and other organ functions, and even death, that would supposedly characterize an overdose. Every word of it was a fabrication. Conveniently, I stated that Novocain had no known addictive properties, thus relieving me of the burden of dealing with that point. I decided that heavy intake of fluids and transfusions would constitute the standard treatment for an overdose and stated my case with the clinical sobriety of a small-town hospital chaplain.
When our grades came back, I found that I had received a B on the exam as a whole, as well as a B minus for my essay on Novocain. I had been marked down slightly for being hazy about the history and development of the drug, but my other assertions had sailed through unchallenged.
As with everything we do in our scholastic careers, this episode was a learning opportunity. It was a lesson I’d been taught before, but this served as a cogent reminder. The lesson: Just because someone is older, or more educated, or holds a position of authority over us, does not mean that they cannot be outsmarted. Ultimately, it is also a lesson in humility, because we, in turn, may one day find ourselves outsmarted by those who are theoretically “beneath” us.
Okay, maybe that’s not the lesson everyone would take away from this story, but everyone processes these things in their own way.
All of which demonstrates yet again that the most important lessons our elders teach us are the ones they don’t realize they’re teaching us.