DRMacIver's Notebook

The social obligation to be bad at things

The social obligation to be bad at things

A thing I got pissed off at a while ago was reactions to someone talking about having weekly one-on-ones with his wife. My thread about it went as follows:

I honestly think this sounds like a pretty good idea - structured communication is great, and better communication with partners is also great. Even if it turns out not to work, it's something that seems at least reasonable to try.

Regardless of whether it's good or not, I'm actually pretty pissed off at everyone who has been making fun of it. I am very much not here for your mocking someone's attempts to improve their communication in their relationships because you think the way they're doing it is weird.

And yes it's framed in a very business speak language. So what? Person in taking valuable communication skills learned in one context and seeing if they can use them to make other communication in their life better shocker!

I don't know the OP and I don't know if the way they are handling their romantic relationship(s) is healthy and productive, but what you're doing is making fun of people for being a different sort of weird than the one you approve of and it's not a good look

I was at a liberating structures event recently, and one of the people I was working with related an anecdote in which he tried a party game as an ice breaker. Many of those are cringe, but this one sounded fun and inoffensive (it was a sentence continuation game where each person said a word following on from a previous one, in an attempt to construct something that sounded like an aphorism). Most people were reluctant initially but got into the swing of things, but a few people just dug their heels in and would not engage properly with it because of concern over looking weird.

But trying something new, or in a different context, is always going to look weird.

When someone tries to do something good and we don't think it's the right thing, we punish them. When someone tries to do something and fails, we laugh at them. This means that if you want to avoid punishment the only way is to not try until you are certain that you are doing the right thing and will succeed at it, but the fastest way to learn something is to try something.

When you say you are good at something, that's arrogant. When you say you're bad at something, people tell you that you're not, or treat it as weakness. This makes it very hard to talk honestly about how good you are about things, and people are very bad at judging how good they are at things so it's very hard to know how good you are without talking about it. Unfortunately, self-knowledge of your own abilities is also essential for getting good at it.

If, despite all of this, you succeed, we put you on a pedestal, and worship you, and then as soon as you inevitably turn out to be a flawed human being like everyone else, we tear you down and destroy you.

So to recap:

  1. You will be punished for trying new things.
  2. You will be punished for trying things that don't work.
  3. You will be punished for trying to understand how good you are at something.
  4. You will be punished for succeeding.

If I sat down and tried to design a set of social norms for discouraging people from being their best selves, I honestly don't think I could have done a better job than this.

Why don't we want people to be good at things?