Saturday, May 30, 2015
The Common, Most Often Incorrect, Belief That Other People Need Your Teaching
It happens in conversation, and it involves one person's making a statement and then the other person's thinking he has something to teach, judge, improve on, advice about, or otherwise offer his two-cents' worth - and he does this because, while this person may not be consciously aware of it, or at least aware of it all the time; this individual generally assumes he knows better than the individual who made the statement. I'm not referring to just knowing better in terms of information about one subject or another. In fact, most of the time when people do this it's not about information. Most of the time it's more about someone just thinking he a) knows better about life than the speaker, b) has a healthier outlook on life than the speaker and/or c) pretty much grossly underestimates the intelligence, character, emotional well-being, intentions, motivations, maturity, or any number of other things that people are or have.
Sometimes the "teaching" response to someone's statement just kind of comes automatically. At other times it may occur because the listener first imagines or misinterprets the speaker's reason for making the statement; and so, it is based on what the listener imagines or incorrectly assumes about the other that obnoxious urge to teach the other person kicks in.
Those of us who are perfectly capable, well adjusted, of average or above average intelligence, and have reasonably normal/"standard" moral character are more than well aware of how often someone else underestimates one or all of those things about us or someone else. While, of course, there are people who, unfortunately, would fall outside of the "normal" range on any of those points; most people don't (and most adults, in particular, don't). In other words, most adults are reasonably intelligent people of fairly decent emotional health and have that normal sense of morality. Am I saying that most people are perfect? Of course, not. Most people - no, no people - are perfect. Most are generally OK, though. Most are good people who have gone over, time and time again, all the matters such as having a healthy attitude, healthy perspective, healthy compassion for others, and healthy understanding that being selfish and/or disregarding the well-being of others isn't what good people are.
There is, however, this one overwhelmingly common flaw in so many people, and that is the one that involves people thinking they're just that much wiser, more well adjusted, smarter, sensible, moral, or responsible than most others. So, this is, I'm assuming, the reason so many people go into their teaching mode pretty much when anyone else says anything. The way it most often goes is that someone makes a statement and the other person evaluates whether that's a statement that can be allowed to stand, or whether there's some big or small lesson or correction required by the listener.
I'm not suggesting that people should just believe everything anyone tells them, but there's a difference between that and almost automatically assuming that one can "improve upon" or otherwise teach someone else who has made a statement, particularly something like a statement about himself. It's not saying that the listener has to agree with things that are a matter of opinion, and most people don't mind having someone else say he doesn't happen to agree, or being asked to clarify or explain facts or reasons for thinking something.
The kind of thing I'm talking about is, for example, if I tell you that my neck hurts because I slept "wrong" last, and you say something like, "Maybe you need more Vitamin Blah-Blah in your diet." NOOOOOOO.... I just told you that I slept wrong because I was the one who had my neck in an uncomfortable position, who kept thinking that I should shift position, and who kept not doing that because I couldn't be bothered at the time. I was the one who felt it happening. I was the one who woke up feeling what I'd been feeling happen all night - only worse. If I weren't certain of how I hurt my neck I would say something like, "My neck hurts. Maybe I slept wrong on it, but I'm not sure."
Maybe I would have even said something like, "My neck hurts such-and-such a way. Have you ever had that, and do you know what causes it?" Again, NOOOOOOO. I didn't say any of those things. I told you that my neck hurts and why. End of story.
Or, another variation of the hurting-neck example: I mention that I'm going to go get a couple of aspirin because my neck hurts after I slept wrong. You take that as "complaining", or maybe instead you take it upon yourself to point out to me that there are people in the world who have cancer or are paraplegics and either say, or imply, that I shouldn't be feeling bad for myself because I slept wrong and have some neck pain. On the other hand, you may instead tell me that it's all a matter of attitude, and if I had the right attitude I wouldn't have as much as discomfort. Yet another one: You might tell me that exercise prevents my kind of neck pain, or that exercise at least would make me feel happier while I have the neck pain. Oh.... and then there might be this one: You tell me how to prevent this kind of thing in the future. (I knew how to prevent it last night, and I knew I could prevent it when I kept waking up because I was uncomfortable. I just decided I'd take my chances because I couldn't be bothered getting up from the living-room chair and going to bed.)
You, my friend, are a giant pain in my neck!!!! (At least in this hypothetical scenario I've offered.)
Here's the thing:
If I have a question about something I'll ask.
If I want your opinion or advice about something I'll ask.
I've we're having a debate or I want your input (needless to say).
If I offer an opinion I'll say that it's just my opinion, unless it goes without saying.
If I make a statement about something other than myself, and you're not sure I'm correct about it; I should be (and always am) more than willing to clarify or answer any questions you have. If it turns out I've been mistaken about some proven fact I'll be happy to admit I was wrong, and happy to have learned better.
BUT, if I make a statement about myself or my own life or people/things in my own life here's how it should go:
If it's a neutral statement you should say something like, "Oh", or else something similar.
If it's a statement about a happy thing you could say something like, "I'm glad to hear that," or "I'm happy for you." If you had something similar happen to you then I'd be happy to hear your experience (about YOU - not me).
If it's a statement about a sad thing you could say something like, "I'm sorry to hear that, " or "Do you have someone who can help," or "If I can do anything to help let me know." If you've had a similar or possibly comparable thing go on in your life; as with a statement about something happy, I'd appreciate hearing about your own experience or how you felt or how you dealt with something.
As for that apparently instinctive urge to try ot wise me up, smarten me up, tell me the "right" perspective, point out what's important in life, remind me that I'm not the only one, or otherwise "educate me" on whatever it is you imagine I don't already know; save it! Go get get yourself a book on something like over-inflated ego, inadequate respect for other people, underestimating other people, arrogance, narcissistic thinking, or any other subject that would educate you on why it is you think you are superior to everyone else, some other people, or maybe just me.
Posted by ME Whelan at 10:37 PM