Friday, July 30, 2010

Witnessing idiocy

It seems to be part of human nature that we all think we're smarter than somebody else at least once in our lives.

Some of us feel that way all the time. Some will argue ceaselessly even when they're wrong.

Some days I feel particularly stubborn and irritated by stupidity.

One of the things that drives me nuts, especially common among academic types, are people who take things too literally or will argue over mechanics when they're missing the larger point I was trying to make. And they're not patient or open-minded enough to try to see where I was going, they just start nit-picking in a way that doesn't get anybody anywhere nearer to enlightenment.

Sometimes I get really frustrated at my own inability to communicate what I think, or just not being in the right position to say what I think at any given moment.

For example: replying to comments on my blog, not being able to come up with the right way to illustrate a concept in a persuasive way and being told I'm doing it all wrong, when that really wasn't the point in the first place

Or, seeing people stretching the wrong way at the gym. It drives me crazy knowing they're getting nothing out of it and will probably injure themselves, and here I could totally prevent that but it's not my job, I shouldn't butt in

Dealing with stupid self-checkout at the grocery store that is designed really poorly and doesn't work very well or make any sense. Wondering if I'm taking it all too literally. But then seeing that not only am I frustrated, but also overhearing the guy next to me asking the supervising cashier perfectly reasonable questions about things we've seen real cashiers do at their stations but the machines won't let us do at the self-checkout station

Getting home and realizing I forgot something I needed at the grocery store

Isn't it funny how some of us are expected to remind everybody else of everything they're supposed to do, but nobody reminds us? And I'm probably only that way because my mother always reminded me of everything and it drove me nuts when I was growing up, but now I do it and people take it for granted that I'll be the reminder? The rememberer? So if I actually do forget something, they assume it's deliberate and I'm mad at them?

I don't really want to remember everything all the time. I really don't.

Some days I can't stand even witnessing personal conflict from afar, like watching friends ranting on Facebook and realizing that while they have a point, the person they're mad at might be crazy or uncomprehending and I just feel so bad for how hurt they are but there's nothing I can do. And knowing at the same time that ranting on Facebook isn't going to help their case at all, but I can't say that, I shouldn't butt in

One of the things I hated most about being a postdoc was watching people fuck things up on a daily basis, but knowing they didn't want my advice and wouldn't follow my protocols even when they asked me for them

And yet, it seems to be an inescapable feature of adult life. I put all this effort into learning how to do things, and I would dearly love to save other people the trouble of learning the hard way. But that knowledge and experience is essentially useless because nobody wants to hear it from me

Which is another reason I wouldn't want to have children. My parents thought they knew everything, and even though I frequently suspected they were wrong, what choice did I have as a minor? To run away? I had to live by their rules, their expectations, their advice and their control

Another thing I see on Facebook, and that I'm seeing more of lately, is my friends having children. And realizing that some of them are really great parents, and some are not. And it is hard to watch people I dearly love, as friends, fucking up their children's lives almost from day 1. And I don't know how to respect that, how to be accepting, or how to say to them gently "Um, you know, maybe it's not fair to be such a controlling perfectionist about your kid, even if that's how you do everything else in your life and that's okay because it's your life"? And knowing that it's not my place to butt in

But wishing there were something I could do to save those poor kids from growing up the way I did, just wishing somebody would please butt in

and stand up for me because we can't always stand up for ourselves

And how modern psychology would probably say this is what I kept hoping for in my career, for somebody to hear me say I needed help and butt in

But our culture seems to think that's somehow impolite, that you should keep to yourself, even when you see things that are unfair or unethical or inhumane, you should just remember it's not your place to butt in

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At 6:13 PM, Anonymous Cherish said...

I wish there would be a change in culture that giving advice was not necessarily meant to be intrusive. Of course, a lot of people who give advice need to learn to state their piece and then back off (my dad is now learning that at nearly 60). I guess if people could give advice and then let it go, while people could listen t proffered advice knowing that the person is trying to help but realizing they have a choice to follow it or not rather than dismissing it out of hand, life would be much better.

At 11:28 AM, Anonymous Fia said...

I know what you mean. I've been told once that we shouldn't forget that our degree of education (ofen) goes hand in hand with a other abilities that enable us to feel that we know much things better and be better able to give advice (whether that is justified or not). One thing I often have to remind myself of is that other people don't have the 5+ years of problem solving experience many PhDs have.
Also, different people have different approaches at learning, and simply giving advice often doesn't cause people to get the deeper insight needed to understand the problem, which is often needed for them to willingly do things differently from what they are used to/have learned. I know a lot of people who won't learn a thing unless they make the experience themselfs, - which is unnervingly slowing down many processes (and it drives me crazy often enough) but that is the way humans are wired. Lamarck'sche evolution is what you call for.
I guess what I am saying is, maybe give these people a break, or have more patience when trying to convince them they are doing it wrong. Or don't take it personally. That's what I do.

At 12:33 PM, Anonymous FrauTech said...

I struggled with not giving unsolicited advice for a while. I'd overhear people talking about how to do something that they didn't know how to do. And they'd spend quite a while talking it out and trying to figure it out when I knew the answer. But it's not as if they asked me. Sometimes when you offer advice, they are really pleased you spoke up. Other times they seem angry, doubt your answer, or uninterested. Sometimes I choose my battles but most days I just learn to ignore them and their wrongness. It's not easy, but we all make mistakes, and I try to think of if I was doing something one way for a certain reason but someone misunderstood what I was trying to do and told me how I could do something completely different. How annoying that would be. So I try not to interfere unless it seems like it would be welcome. I've also learned you usually have to give the advice with a caveat that shows you're not trying to be a know it all. Like "so and so taught me that trick" or "yeah i was having the same problem a few weeks ago until i finally consulted the manual and saw this is what it really does." If it comes off like bragging at all it will be unwelcome.

At 9:46 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Cherish, I agree. I think we've gone too far in the direction of never offering advice at all, in the assumption that it's all or nothing. I like your suggestion best: give it, and then back off.


Lol! Point taken re: PhDs! I always try to be unassuming and my family especially treats me just like they always did - like I'm a complete moron, PhD or no PhD.

I think what irritates me is that I don't learn better that way. I don't need someone to do it FOR me, but it's usually faster if they just tell me what they did that worked for them. Even if I modify it, having a starting point or a guide is often really really helpful.

I went to grad school at a place where they believed in letting everyone flounder. I think that's an excuse for not teaching and a big waste of time. Fortunately I had a lot of experience going in and I was relentless about asking questions. But I think we lose a lot of potential talent for lack of understanding that "learning the hard way" is not the best way for everyone. I really hate seeing that happen.

Of course there will always be people who think that if you ask questions at all, you must be a moron. I don't want to work with those kinds of people ever again.

FrauTech, In my last lab, I ran into almost the opposite. Like the men who were bragging were taken at their word, whereas I gave caveats or disclaimers, they thought it meant I wasn't confident or experienced enough. The subtlety of real experience vs. bragging was completely lost on them.

Anyway I stopped offering to help but then I felt like, What am I doing here? Why did I bother getting all that expertise?

I might as well have been a potted plant, for all they cared. Although, at least they watered the plants...

Kind of goes against the scientific method, at least it seems that way to me. if you have people around and you're not sure what to do, why wouldn't you ask them hey what do you think? have you done this before? And if they say "I dunno" then that's fine.

But why not ask? I was sitting right there all the time.

Of course, I also come from a part of the world where everybody talks to strangers. So if you had a stupid question at the gym or the grocery store, you wouldn't feel stupid asking. And people wouldn't treat you like an idiot for asking. But where I live now, nobody does that. They look at you like you're a total freak if you try to talk to strangers in public about anything. Buildings have to be burning down before anyone will speak to a stranger.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger GMP said...

Which is another reason I wouldn't want to have children. My parents thought they knew everything, and even though I frequently suspected they were wrong, what choice did I have as a minor? To run away? I had to live by their rules, their expectations, their advice and their control

Actually, after having kids I find I am much easier on my parents. I realize they were full of shit a lot of the time, and you bet they knew it, but for the most part they were doing the best they could. I think most people are like that -- they do try their best, with all their imperfections and ignorance; parenting is messy and never perfect.

As for giving advice -- people should be free to mess up. I think that should be an unalienable human right of something. The smart ones do ask for advice before jumping into something new; the dumb or overconfident ones don't -- it's their funeral. I find that at my "advanced age"
(37, but I often feel twice as old) I really don't give a rat's ass if people ask me for advice or not; I wouldn't ask me either -- I get too longwinded and overzealous when giving advice anyway.

At 8:10 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

GMP, I think we all get easier on our parents as we age. I'm not sure how much more it would help to have children at this point. Maybe somewhat, that's an interesting point. But I suspect it would make me even angrier to see them trying to do to my kids what they did to me. I see them doing it to my niece and it seriously pisses me off. But I can't really say anything. I wouldn't know where to start.

And I'm not talking about imperfections here, I'm talking about, "You only have one life to live, and that means you don't get to make all the decisions about mine, you fucking living vicariously type A ambitious narrow-minded control freaks!"

I have a hard time watching people mess up. That was sort of the point of this post. I like giving advice and I wish people would ask instead of assuming. But I did the same when I was their age. I just don't know how to break to the cycle of stupidity.


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