Skip

"A conclusion is not the point at which you find the truth, it’s only the point at which the exploring stops. We do it quickly and unconsciously and the effects are long-lasting."
October 8, 2012 12:09 PM   Subscribe

The person you used to be still tells you what to do: "We work from conclusions made years ago, usually with no idea of when we made them, or why. Most of our standing impressions are probably based on a single experience — one instance of unpleasantness or disappointment that turned you off of entire categories of recreational activities, lifestyles and creative pursuits, forever." (via notnamed)
posted by flex (113 comments total) 164 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good find, but I'd expand it even more, because sometimes the conclusions come from elsewhere as well. I was told as a child, and then also decided, that I was uncoordinated and would never be an athlete. It took me 28 years to realize that wasn't true, and now I'm training for my second marathon.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:15 PM on October 8, 2012 [26 favorites]


Huh. I guess we're all Timelords beholden to the actions of our previous regenerations.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 12:16 PM on October 8, 2012 [15 favorites]


In reality, since I’d last actively considered [my impression], the sun had risen and set four thousand times, wars had been fought, borders had been redrawn, great loves had started and ended, eras had died. Children who were five then were now driving cars, and somehow I still felt like I had a pretty clear idea of what I was missing.

Well said. It was only at this age (his age) that I came to realize that I was doing this on a regular basis. Things have gone very much better for me since I stopped allowing all my romantic and social decisions to be made by an angry seventeen-year-old girl.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:19 PM on October 8, 2012 [36 favorites]


I've long had this vague notion that many years ago I was slightly late for something, just a little late, but that threw off everything from that moment on, and so I just get perpetually later and later. And now, decades later, I could be three, four years late for all I know.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:21 PM on October 8, 2012 [65 favorites]


I agree, roomthreeseventeen - it took me (still is taking me) a long time to realize what I was told about myself is still how I think of myself even though those things weren't, and aren't, actually true.*
posted by flex at 12:21 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Having been convinced by nazi-like PE coaches in high school that I hated sport of any kind, I avoided watching or participating for many many years.

Somewhere, maybe a picnic softball, or volleyball game I realized I was wrong, it was PE teachers I hated.

Though I'm not an athlete, I've ridden three 200 mile bikes rides this year (one day events, and yes I am bragging) and play tennis most days.

So there is something to this article.

But dancing? Electronic music? Still a resounding "no" in my life, and forever will be. But I get his point.
posted by cccorlew at 12:22 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good in theory, but I'd question whether he really wrote of "going out dancing" as wholly as he thought he did. He even says that he chalked his dislike up to "not liking the music they played in those clubs I first went to". And it sounds like what turned him around was -- hearing music that was different than the clubs he first went to.

If that's the case, what's wrong with the initial premise that "I didn't like the music that they played in those original clubs"? If he'd been exposed to other music earlier, he'd have started going out dancing earlier, right? So maybe it wasn't him strictly writing off all invitations after all -- maybe it was just a matter of not having been introduced to music he liked. (I can relate to not wanting to dance to music I don't like, I just haven't yet found clubs that have an "all Motown-and-Waterboys" playlist.)

Then again, there's a great quote from the show Passing Strange that seems apt here, where the lead talks about a certain turning point his younger self came to: “You know, it’s weird when you wake up one morning and realize that your entire adult life was based on a decision made by a teenager. A stoned teenager.”
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:23 PM on October 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


People do this to kids all the time - you're tone-deaf, you're a math person, you're a language person - and, at the right age, it works like the Judgement of Minos; the kids will readily absorb these beliefs into their identity. The atmosphere of intellectual snobbery that I was raised in - the whole community, the schools, not just my family - made it completely clear to us college-tracked kids that whole swaths of life, work, and experience were just out of the question for us, absolutely beneath our potential. I'm sure the intent was to inspire us, but I also got the message that people who weren't brain surgeons or famous professors may as well be dead, because they have wasted their lives by being ordinary.
posted by thelonius at 12:24 PM on October 8, 2012 [108 favorites]


SEVERAL years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation, if I desired to establish a firm and abiding superstructure in the sciences.

Descartes, Meditation I
posted by voltairemodern at 12:24 PM on October 8, 2012 [37 favorites]


sometimes the conclusions come from elsewhere as well. I was told as a child, and then also decided, that I was uncoordinated and would never be an athlete. It took me 28 years to realize that wasn't true, and now I'm training for my second marathon.

In this vein: I went my entire teens and 20's thinking I was completely unphotogenic, and actually kind of ugly. Then one day I was sorting through photos that my mother had taken of me at some familiy event, and then some photos someone else had taken of the same event, and it finally hit me: I wasn't ugly, my mother is just a really crappy photographer.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:26 PM on October 8, 2012 [53 favorites]


Great article. I know so many people confined by their earlier selves. Like cccorlew, I know people who won't exercise or work out or watch or play sports because to them it's the mean PE teachers or the guys/girls that beat them up in high school and that's what it means to them, when if you've been to a gym (short of the hardcore bodybuilder gyms) it's mostly bored people in headphones watching TV. I know people who no longer enjoy spending all their time playing video games but have wrapped their core identity up so much in being a "gamer" that they refuse to not-do something they actively dislike. Because that's Who They Are As A Person.

For myself, I've been aggressively confronting these notions. For example, the idea of Science being a course I'd have to take were I to return to school is intimidating because I Don't Know Science, but I eventually realized hey, wait a second, maybe the reason I Don't Know Science is because my Chemistry teacher set a kid on fire, not because I am inherently Bad At Science. So I bought a Biology textbook and I've been reading it and I can read and comprehend it pretty well. Obviously some of the nuances would be things I'd have to study for, but I am not Scientifically Impaired. I'm reasonably sure I could pass a science class if need be. It's got me wondering if I'm not so much Bad At Math, rather, I had terrible teachers post-Geometry.

Likewise, I thought I was one of those people That Didn't Care About Clothes Wear Whatever Man but it turned out that was because when I was a kid and well into being a teenager, my mom got cheap clothes from Wal-Mart or K-mart and they were scratchy and didn't fit and fell apart, so I never really cared how I looked (because, frankly, I was uncomfortable in whatever I had). Learning how to dress properly and wear nice clothes has been a revelation and now I do take some care in how I look, at least when I have to dress up and dress nice. Part of the reason I want to lose weight is so I can finally wear all the awesome things I come across.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:35 PM on October 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


That obese kid in my past is still fucking-up my life.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:35 PM on October 8, 2012 [13 favorites]


In my 20's someone advised me to seriously question any belief I'd held more than 5 years straight. It took me another 20 years to take that advice seriously.
posted by klarck at 12:37 PM on October 8, 2012 [35 favorites]


See also Robert Sapolsky's essay, "Open Season" (summary from The New Yorker; available as part of his excellent book of essays, "Monkeyluv"). We close ourselves off to novelty as we age, says Sapolsky, and our opinions get set. Committing to rejuvenating openness to new experiences (and, perhaps, reevaluating old conclusions) has to be a conscious project.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:52 PM on October 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


Identifying and addressing these things can be a major part of psychotherapy.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:54 PM on October 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


The day that I figured out I didn't actually dislike peppers... it was like scales fell from my eyes.
posted by danny the boy at 12:56 PM on October 8, 2012


And it launched like a month long quest to try all the foods that I thought I disliked. I never found anything else that was as revelatory, but did establish a habit of once in a while ordering the thing I found least appealing on the menu, and this has led to some really fantastic meals.
posted by danny the boy at 12:59 PM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


watch out for people who want to dissolve the ego. they've got a replacement ready.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:05 PM on October 8, 2012 [44 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "In this vein: I went my entire teens and 20's thinking I was completely unphotogenic, and actually kind of ugly. Then one day I was sorting through photos that my mother had taken of me at some familiy event, and then some photos someone else had taken of the same event, and it finally hit me: I wasn't ugly, my mother is just a really crappy photographer."

I had the same experience, but it had nothing to do with someone being a crappy photographer and everything to do with how I felt about myself making it impossible to believe I wasn't appearance-impaired. Now I don't feel crappy about myself, but I have slowly grown uglier. That's not self-hate speaking, that's the result of far too many Coca-Colas and steaks over the years.
posted by wierdo at 1:05 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The phrases this discussion needs are "open loop control" and "closed loop control".

Open loop, which is bad, is where you try to control things by sending out commands. Closed loop control, which is good, is where you try to control things by sending out commands and then getting feedback on what happened. The loop is closed.

Letting your (much) younger set all the commands and never going back to re-evaluate and see how things are going is open loop control.
posted by DU at 1:06 PM on October 8, 2012 [16 favorites]


It would be hard to find out at 59 that I'm really not a loner.
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 1:06 PM on October 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm kind of glad this only works on children.

Ever tried cricket? You look like you'd make a great fast bowler.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:08 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


culling beliefs about yourself amounts simply to consiously doing things that feel like they’re not quite a natural fit for you, just to see what happens.
...
otherwise know that your lifestyle is still being directed by a younger and less experienced version of you who, frankly, doesn’t know you at all.

Badass article. I would add that it's really great to have an S.O. who also does this, and to be able to mutually encourage it for each other.
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:28 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


For me, it took well into my adult life to put my foot down about activities that I did NOT like but was made to feel I should like. Now I understand: I am an introvert, and there's nothing wrong with the fact that I don't like social gatherings of people I don't well. Likewise, I hate browsing-type shopping. (I shop when I need something, but in that case, I have a specific goal in mind; I'm not just browsing).

I just started putting my foot down about the latter only in the last few years. It causes some friction between my wife and me, but I'm convinced that it's less friction than agreeing to tag along and then making her irritated when I get bored.
posted by tippiedog at 1:43 PM on October 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


I run into this phenomenon often at work. I'm a web developer, and since technologies are always changing, and new approaches are constantly being invented, I have a pretty steady set of opportunities to decide if I do or don't like a way of doing things. Older technologies that used to be cumbersome and hard to use get better and easier (see: PHP MVC frameworks) and technologies that once made a lot of sense (see: Flash) suddenly make less sense. If I'm going to be any good at what i do, I have to stay open-minded and humble, which is harder than it sounds.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:45 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is interesting; another thing I have noticed is that sometimes your friends can reinforce it. I used to hang out with a girl that just loved to make observations about what everyonje around her was doing. If you did anything that seemed a bit out of character, she'd be all "you??? doing thatt????" she'd do it in a funny way, so it took me a long time to realize just how unhealthy and manipulative it was. Damn glad I stopped hanging out with that one.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:46 PM on October 8, 2012 [29 favorites]


while for the most part i agree with challenging your set-in-stone beliefs from so long ago, to this day i am still glad that i stopped eating meat at age 11 when i truly found out about the industry behind it. yes some decisions made early in life may have been hastily done and best re-evaluated later in life, but there are other decisions that strike such a chord and are so important that they continue to develop and grow with who you are as a person years down the road. it may be subjective as to which is which, but that's to each their own.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 1:50 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Things have gone very much better for me since I stopped allowing all my romantic and social decisions to be made by an angry seventeen-year-old girl.

I guess to each their own, 'cause as far as my life goes, it just keeps getting better and better since I been lettin' Judy down at the Hot Topic make all my big choices for me.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:52 PM on October 8, 2012 [34 favorites]


When I was little, I hated avocados. They were green, slimy, mushy and therefore had nothing to offer.

My parents made a rule. Every time they ate avocados, I had to try one bite. If I didn't like that one bite, I didn't have to eat any more.

Over the years I tried many single bites of avocado, usually in the form of guacamole. Hated them all.

Then one fated day, I took my required bite.

It was delicious.

Everything changed. I viewed my younger avocado-hating self with contempt and bafflement. I loved avocados. I wanted them ALL FOR ME. (I still do.)

My parents did a lot of things wrong but I think this is one thing they did right. I have always remembered this try one bite rule. As an adult, I am the one who makes myself take one bite whenever I have the chance. Maybe not forever, but at least three times.

Because of this I realized that I actually do like raw oysters. And dogs (oh god, how I love my dog now). And exercise. And going out in public and talking to people. And pop music. And okra. And yes, dancing.
posted by crackingdes at 1:53 PM on October 8, 2012 [14 favorites]


My sense of self is way too fragile to be stressed thusly.

"Whoa! I actually like broccoli! Everything I've ever known is a lie! Multi-state killing spree!"
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:03 PM on October 8, 2012 [25 favorites]


I went skiing once and it fucking sucked. I will maintain for the rest of my life that people who look like they're having fun while skiing are an optical illusion. Something to do with the glare on the snow, I think.
posted by echo target at 2:09 PM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


The realization that the current 'self' is mostly directed by the prejudices (real and imagined) of a previous 'self' is a nice step toward the realization that there's not a self in the first place.

I've often wondered if humanity as a whole is beginning to move in the direction of enlightenment, or if it's just confirmation bias on my part. I assume confirmation bias to avoid sounding like a loon when I talk to people, but man would it be nice if it was actually happening.
posted by Mooski at 2:09 PM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


The discussion of athletics really resonates for me. I never had an opinion either way about my own athletic ability until I got into first grade--I liked running and jumping like other kids. But I had a Mean Gym Teacher who was exceptionally rigid from first through fifth grades, an odd woman who wore the same white button up and culotte shorts every single day. We'd have to run a mile or learn all the rules of football and volley ball and if we laughed too much or chatted too much she'd just stand there and stare at us with this terrifying death glare. It was boring. It wasn't fun. And I'd get bored and stare off into space. Once I was doing so when I turned around and saw a football headed straight for my head. I ducked, and she made me stay after to prove that I could really catch. It was third grade, I think? All the other kids laughed. It was really humiliating.

My mom and my sister have tried to get me to go to gyms since. Funny thing is that I don't mind some forms of exercise (and have been to some good yoga classes); I love hiking and walking and cardio boxing and Just Dancing on my Wii, but the last time I went to a spinning class with my mother it was taught by a woman who seemed to be cut from the same cloth as my old gym teacher. She actually called me "lazy" when I couldn't keep up (had never been to a spinning class before). I had to leave the class to keep from crying.

So now when they try to get me to go to the gym, I just say no.

For me, most narratives like these come from other people. I read recently that shyness in kids is often brought about by teasing. I was both painfully shy and teased constantly by my parents and older sister and cousins. I was dorky, obsessive, looked like a little boy, had bad teeth, was stupid enough to believe in Santa Claus, and so on, and so forth. Some of this was said lovingly, some not so much, and even now I sometimes have trouble telling the difference between someone lovingly ribbing me and someone cruelly cutting me down. It made me exceedingly self-conscious. Socializing is exhausting for me in part because of that. I'm hyper self-aware and hyper self-critical and also highly attuned to the criticisms of others. I'm working through these things in therapy, but it's really, really hard. Who I was as a person was so fragile for such a long time.

I'm glad to be able to rebuild my narrative, but the way that my anxiety is, it's important to me that I rebuild it. It's not just a matter of telling myself "What if I'm wrong about the gym?" but being able to say "I can try this if I want but if I don't want to subject myself to mean people, that's okay, too." Because when your self-esteem is swiss cheese you can be pretty easily manipulated into doing things you're not comfortable with, and that's no good either.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:11 PM on October 8, 2012 [32 favorites]


And dogs (oh god, how I love my dog now)

I hope someone called your local news agencies when you tried one bite of your dog.
posted by Jpfed at 2:13 PM on October 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


As long as no one tried the bark. I hear that's generally worse.
posted by Earthtopus at 2:19 PM on October 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


I hope someone called your local news agencies when you tried one bite of your dog.

Does the town have a Spanish name?
posted by Tknophobia at 2:21 PM on October 8, 2012


If I'm going to be any good at what i do, I have to stay open-minded and humble, which is harder than it sounds.

Don't stay too humble. Experience is valuable, in particular the ability to look at one of these new technologies and notice that it is a warmed over version of something that died for good reason years ago.

People invent the same things with different names over and over again; Knowing when and why to adopt a new thing is a valuable skill.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:22 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The person I used to be got married and had kids. I have even less of a say in what I do than ever before...
posted by Chuffy at 2:33 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


And dogs (oh god, how I love my dog now)

I hope someone called your local news agencies when you tried one bite of your dog.


He didn't mind, he just likes attention.
posted by crackingdes at 2:45 PM on October 8, 2012


I went skiing once and it fucking sucked.

Me too. And the next time, and the next. And about 10-20 more times at least.

Now I don't get to go as much as I'd like or to the steep scary hills I'd love, but sometimes it takes a lot more than one bite to get there.

On another tack, I love boating stories from the old guys, I thought I was unprepared, un-mechanical, inexperienced, not handy. But they lived through sinkings, groundings, dead engines, broken this and that and breaking this and that. I guess I'll probably survive and enjoy it all too.

But Opera can still be boring.
posted by sammyo at 3:03 PM on October 8, 2012


I kind of had a revelation like this recently. I've been trying (not very successfully, to my mind) to learn Irish Gaelic for years. This past summer, an event happened that forced me to put the Irish learning on overdrive. Two weeks ago, there was a weekend-long retreat in an old seminary, and all my Irish language friends were there. During the get-to-know-you introductory game (which was more about practicing Irish than getting to know anybody, as we all already knew one another), I was placed with a table of fluent speakers. Then, the organizer came along and said, "oh no, four fluent speakers at one table, can't have that!" I looked around momentarily like an idiot at the other three people at the table, wondering what in the hell the organizer was on about. The little narrative in my brain said "what, who, me? You can't mean me. I'm terrible at Irish". And yet, it acted like a dam break. I spent the rest of that weekend yakking away in Irish like I'd always spoken it.

Amazing the power these little narratives have over us, and amazing what happens when you stop listening to them.
posted by LN at 3:04 PM on October 8, 2012 [13 favorites]


Okay, here goes, one more time....


Nope. Still an atheist.
posted by gagglezoomer at 3:05 PM on October 8, 2012 [18 favorites]


Wait, this isn't a piece of viral marketing for Looper?
posted by Rangeboy at 3:13 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect this is the real reason many people "don't get math" and respond with frustration when presented with simple problems that can be solved with high school algebra. Having helped several non-STEM people work on studying for the quantitative portion of the GRE, I have concluded that our educational system is just totally failing to help most people understand the fundamentals of what math is and how to use it as a tool for understanding problems. A good portion of these people who self-identify as "bad at math" are really just shutting down emotionally when confronted with something that looks like a math problem. These are smart people. Presumably they just had a hard time learning the material originally and they had lousy teachers who made them feel dumb. It's a shame.
posted by deathpanels at 3:30 PM on October 8, 2012 [27 favorites]


Oh my gosh, I totally shut down emotionally when confronted with numbers in any form. I can almost feel my brain physically pushing the math away.
posted by Occula at 3:37 PM on October 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


"you??? doing thatt????"

I moved across the country some years ago, and left behind a markedly different life than I am living now. I would have never done the sports, the travel, or the work that I am doing if I had stayed in Montreal.

That was a major pressing of the reset button in my life, with me having no idea where this would lead. I had a job and a one-way plane ticket and I pressed GO.

I've been living here for 22 years now, and I press the reset button, not so hard nowadays, whenever I go travel. Not the weekend kind of travel (which resets mood and thinking ability) but the kind where I have to get out of my shell, meet new people, discover new places, about a month at a time. Travel offers new perspectives and also enables me to review and challenge some core beliefs.
posted by seawallrunner at 3:38 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The person that I used to be still doesn't do the dishes when he should, and leaves them for current me. The jerk.
posted by klangklangston at 3:40 PM on October 8, 2012 [18 favorites]


The way I've always understood this concept is that we create narratives for our lives and our identities, and once those narratives get locked into place, it can be difficult to alter them. I feel this is most true in those areas of our lives that we don't focus on very much, either because they don't demand our attention very often, or out of avoidance. Laying down those stories makes life easier because we have a script -- we don't have to think about or confront the concepts behind the narratives. If my story is that I don't like olives, it makes olives easy to deal with -- I don't need to try them, I don't like olives, end of story. I'm a terrible dancer, so I don't have to risk embarrassment by dancing. I don't have to confront new experiences since I already know I don't like them.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 3:52 PM on October 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


My elementary and junior high schools used the mean gym teachers as math teachers. The opportunities in life I may have lost because of the hatred and fear of both subjects they instilled is pretty upsetting to consider.
posted by treepour at 4:00 PM on October 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


The way I've always understood this concept is that we create narratives for our lives and our identities, and once those narratives get locked into place, it can be difficult to alter them.

The act of doing has made a tremendous difference in my ability to refute old narratives. Looking back, I know some of the things my parents said about The Way I Was were said out of frustration rather than because of any truth quotient; but even so, every time I learn a new skill or solve a construction problem or cope with a small emergency gracefully and efficiently, I think to myself, "So there. They were wrong then, and they're still wrong." The acquisition of skill for its own sake is important to me... but it's also an ongoing refutation of the negative narratives I internalized.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:07 PM on October 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


Math and PE is one of the most common shared teaching positions I've seen. I think this fact, and the level of trauma many people report in those subjects specifically, is not coincidental.
posted by ead at 4:07 PM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


I was never a girly girl, despite all of my mother's best efforts to make me into one. She sewed me dresses. Curled my hair. All of it. Then she'd spank me when I immediately took the hairbrush to my head to straighten out the curls she'd spent an hour putting in (against my protests).

The age at which I got old enough that she pretty much had to listen when I said No corresponded with the age that most young girls start doing the makeup thing. I never wore makeup. Never experimented with it. Never wanted to. I found out later that I was known as the girl who didn't wear makeup. Even into my 20s and early 30s, people would notice. Not in a judgmental way, but it was uncommon enough to come across a woman in a professional environment without even the slightest hint of it that it was remarkable -- in that it was something to be remarked upon.

Never wore makeup.

But I was invited to a wedding last summer that, to me, sounded fancy-schmancy. I agonized over what to wear, and when I finally found clothes that to me seemed SoCal, black-tie appropriate, I still didn't feel like I looked the part.

So I bought some makeup. And dammit, it was kind of fun. I felt like I was wearing a costume, and I was really worried that people would point and laugh, but given the fact that the bride and groom were the only two people there I knew, it was no longer remarkable that I -- ME! -- that I was wearing makeup.

That was a huge step for me, and I'm glad I took it. Haven't worn any makeup since, but I have a drawer full of it the next time something like that makes the makeup-wearing seem appropriate or somewhat necessary.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:10 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I went skiing once and it fucking sucked.

Takes a few times to get the hang of it. Don't completely write off a sport that combines riding in a basket, falling down a hill, and drinking beer in the snow while wearing giant boots.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:10 PM on October 8, 2012 [14 favorites]


I definitely feel like I see this with math a lot, but just as frequently, I encounter people who "can't draw". And I want to be like, "of course you can! Here! Just grab a marker and do a stick figure! We're not grading you on this! Fuckin' make a scrawl, yo!"
posted by Greg Nog at 4:11 PM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


I definitely feel like I see this with math a lot, but just as frequently, I encounter people who "can't draw". And I want to be like, "of course you can! Here! Just grab a marker and do a stick figure! We're not grading you on this! Fuckin' make a scrawl, yo!"

I started teaching myself to draw at age 30 and was kind of shocked to find out that I had it in me.
posted by COBRA! at 4:14 PM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh god, math. Count me as another one of those people who has spent my entire education thinking, "I'm bad at math," and emotionally shutting down at the sight of a math problem. I know it's ridiculous: I got As and Bs in my advanced math classes throughout elementary, middle, and high school. I had mostly good teachers! But motherfucking timed tests and board exercises. The ubiquity of the time crunch element in my math education has rendered every single math problem since then into a sucking pit of anxiety. I'd never get a concept quite as fast as my peers, and I'd always be playing catch up when solving problems together. Simply going at a slower pace probably would have done wonders for all my math-related anxiety.
posted by yasaman at 4:18 PM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I definitely feel like I see this with math a lot, but just as frequently, I encounter people who "can't draw". And I want to be like, "of course you can! Here! Just grab a marker and do a stick figure! We're not grading you on this! Fuckin' make a scrawl, yo!"

Oh god, yeah! I was always a kid who could draw, and I worked very hard at it. But I'd constantly get wistful looks from adults who would say, "I wish I could draw." And it's like, of course you can. Who taught them to be so self-conscious about it, so self-conscious that they wouldn't even try?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:33 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I hated math and was convinced I was terrible at it, until a math professor friend got into a conversation with me about swarming theory, and suddenly looked at me and told me I was one of the smartest people he'd ever met (from the perspective of discussing swarming theory.) Which I'd never studied, but just seemed incredibly intuitive to me. He revealed to me that math notation isn't math, any more than musical notation is music, and I've embraced math as an abstract concept with much joy since then.
posted by davejay at 4:36 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


there's a flip side to this

there's not enough time to do everything

there's not even enough time to do everything of the things you like to do

if my 17 year old self decided that he didn't like doing things that maybe he could have learned to like, and i'm still following that, it's fine

because he did decide on doing things that have kept me occupied for a lifetime - and whether i would have liked skiing, going out to the club, running a marathon or sailing doesn't matter

i'm too busy doing other things that are my passion
posted by pyramid termite at 4:36 PM on October 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh yeah, and I didn't really do anything with music worth anything until about eight years ago in my 30s, when I was given a ukulele as a gift, because past efforts had been greeted with scorn from my father. Not that I'm any genius, based on what's hanging around in MeFi music, but I'm not without some talent.
posted by davejay at 4:37 PM on October 8, 2012


i find myself wanting to correct people that say "i can't draw" to just say "you mean you can't draw well. that takes practice." so when people say they can't do anything better than stick figures i point out david shrigley's work.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 4:39 PM on October 8, 2012


Everytime I look at math, the numbers and symbols seem to fall down into a black hole in my mind and I say to myself, "Nope!"
I'd like to be better at math someday, but it's not really that high on my priority list. Calculators have become my best friend.

Oh, and reading music. Someone once told me "reading music is akin to math" after the math hate had already set in and so playing the piano was put aside. Now I fantasize about playing the violin which actually IS on my list of "things to accomplish someday." Maybe.
posted by DisreputableDog at 5:01 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I realised this when I discovered I wasn't an introvert, at the age of 30.

I was teased a lot through school which I think pushed me to be intensely shy (I still am actually, but it's getting better). I decided sometime before I was 10 that while I craved friendship people were hard work and my own company was fine for the most part.

Feeling unhappy about this through my 20's and then falling unexpectedly into a hugely social work situation when I was 29, where I was well respected and felt comfortable led me to reevaluate that. I'd never felt happier, more stimulated and more part of a community. I love and need people. For me that discovery was huge and it's led me to reevaluate a bunch of other things as well. Including dancing actually.

I hate to think what would happened if I'd never challenged that idea of a child.
posted by deadwax at 5:04 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


It could be that my lifelong allergy to football (soccer, dear coz) was due to one awful experience being taken to see our local team squelch its way to a nil-nil draw with another provincial team, iin the pouring Devonian rain on a grey, grey November day.

But my family life had a lot of football, with both parents actively supporting different teams, and plenty of the exciting stuff on the telly. I enjoyed that, while young. But by the time I'd been taken to that soggy fixture, I was a teenager and losing interest fast - the experience was through a family friend, distressed by my lack of enthusiasm.

Now, many years later, I find that quite a few of my otherwise impeccably cultured pals, of all genders, are still fascinated by the game. I have, for reasons of politeness and in the interests of getting laid, tried quite hard to take even a passable interest. But lordy, it is pointless and puffed up with self importance, corrupt and stuffed ugly with cash. Who the hell can care about these people?

In conclusion: I was right all along. Not everything you learn to dislike at a young age is going to have hidden depths later on. Sometimes, you nailed it.
posted by Devonian at 5:10 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I spent 21 years thinking I was terrible at math thanks to bad teachers growing up, and then took Calc my senior year of college. I loved it and was sad, because I'd wasted so much time beating myself up about being worthless at it.

We're always told that math/writing/drawing require an innate gift, but that's just not true. I always tell people drawing is a craft like any other. Nobody says you need a gift from God to make furniture or create flower arrangements. They're skills, like anything else.

This thread makes me want to take up soccer or something.
posted by sonmi at 5:22 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


but the last time I went to a spinning class with my mother it was taught by a woman who seemed to be cut from the same cloth as my old gym teacher. She actually called me "lazy" when I couldn't keep up (had never been to a spinning class before). I had to leave the class to keep from crying.

I normally try pretty hard to be polite, but I think a "Fuck You" would have served you well in this instance. You would have been able to keep doing the class instead of letting her take it away from you. It would have been funny at the least.

They really are just trying to drive people. Many people will respond to what she said and try harder and like it, that’s why they’re there. They pay for that. I think it’s a stupid game and just roll my eyes and go about my business. Different strokes. Don’t take this kind of thing personally and let people ruin things for you.
posted by bongo_x at 5:29 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


For me it was a belief that I just wasn't any good at doing things with my hands, or using tools. I always asked friends to come over to help me fix things. And by "help" I mean I watched while they did it for me. (Thanks!)

But then we bought a house with an old, neglected play set in the backyard. My daughter was two, and I decided to fix it up for her. I didn't know anything. I remember asking someone "what do you call this kind of wood?" "Um, that's plywood," came the response.

But step by step, I fix it up. Pried off rotted wood, put fresh planks down. Replaced the steep ladder with a safer staircase. Water-sealed it and installed a slide. After decades of doing only intellectual work that was always in process, it was an amazing feeling to look at something and think "I did that and it is finished."

I was hooked.

I bought a home repair guide and started fixing everything myself. Installed the new dishwasher. Built shelving in the garage. Trouble-shot the malfunctioning over, bought the right parts and fixed it. Built a nice wooden toddler bed for my kid. It was a profound and positive change in my life, all because I wound up with a play set that needed fixing, and set out to do it.

Honestly, I love this working with my hands stuff so much that I really think I missed my calling. My grandfather was a mechanic, and two of my uncles are. I rejected all that traditional manly stuff and went a more academic route because the males in my family were often such horrible people to be around. But now I realize I inherited a lot of that interest and just let it lay dormant. I bet I would have really enjoyed becoming a master mechanic, diagnosing problems, fixing them, and getting to say "now that's done!" But as a 40 year old college instructor with kids to feed, it's a bit late to switch career paths. It has been good to figure this out about myself, though.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:42 PM on October 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


Having helped several non-STEM people work on studying for the quantitative portion of the GRE, I have concluded that our educational system is just totally failing to help most people understand the fundamentals of what math is and how to use it as a tool for understanding problems

There's a cultural narrative in which it's acceptable (and depressingly enough at times, encouraged) to be "bad at math". So many students are taught this both implicitly and explicitly that they never should try and because of this nobody ever tries to teach it to them either. As a result, math is just an excruciatingly painful series of meaningless bullshit formulas the student is forced to memorize to pass standardized tests. Calculators and equations become black boxes that give arbitrary answers in response to the manipulation of arbitrary symbols, and if you mess up the equally arbitrary sequence of said symbols, well, you can't go to college. Students have every right to hate math when it's taught like this.

A specific example: I have yet to tutor a single high school student who can tell me what pi is. Of course they can tell me it's 3.1415whatever, but where do those numbers come from? This is something you can explain to a seven-year old using string (show them how many times the middle line of the circle fits into the edge of the circle when you unfold it), but no one every bothered to make sure these students understood this before jumping into area and circumference formulas and as a result they always get the circumference formula confused with the area formula which just doesn't happen if you actually understand what pi is: the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.

TL; DR: for everyone reading this who thinks they're "bad at math", try giving it another go, you may have formed that opinion under less than ideal circumstances.
posted by Ndwright at 6:29 PM on October 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


singing...still stuck :-/
posted by j_curiouser at 6:40 PM on October 8, 2012


The way I've always understood this concept is that we create narratives for our lives and our identities, and once those narratives get locked into place, it can be difficult to alter them.

There's a reason the "archplot" always involves the protagonist being pulled away from their normal circumstances and into something seemingly beyond their realm - "character" is not found in our day-to-day assumptions about ourselves.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:41 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used to hang out with a girl that just loved to make observations about what everyonje around her was doing. If you did anything that seemed a bit out of character, she'd be all "you??? doing thatt????" she'd do it in a funny way, so it took me a long time to realize just how unhealthy and manipulative it was.

Huh, now I realize why certain people drive me crazy.
posted by spiderskull at 6:42 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


The person that I used to be still doesn't do the dishes when he should, and leaves them for current me. The jerk.

There's been some studies recently that show that our brains usually consider our future self an entirely unrelated person. It's part of the reason self-discipline is so hard -- we know that piece of cake we're eating is going to make somebody fat, but at some level we don't connect that the somebody is us.

It's actually sort of helpful to know as I generally take far better care of things that belong to other people than I do my own stuff.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:26 PM on October 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


> Laying down those stories makes life easier because we have a script -- we don't have to think about or confront the concepts behind the narratives

Sure some of the narratives you absorb as a kid and lots of the one-size-fits-all roles you're, un, encouraged to learn and assume will be stuff that you later on don't like and don't agree with. And you may be able to revisit and revise some of that some--the ones that are least appropriate for you and cause you the most problems, we hope.

But is there really any alternative? "Having a script" makes it sound like more like laziness than anything else. But not laying down those scripts and stories = you never learn where the water hole is or that you need to be afraid of leopards. You really do need that "be afraid of leopards" thing ingrained in you down where you don't need to think about it too much before you remember to run the fuck away. Most of the overlearned, conditioned-in stuff that's most fundamental to our lives as homo sapiens is not only, as you say, stuff we don't think about much, it's stuff we better not have to think about too much.
posted by jfuller at 7:35 PM on October 8, 2012


but no one every bothered to make sure these students understood this before jumping into area and circumference formulas and as a result they always get the circumference formula confused with the area formula which just doesn't happen

It's not clear that you can ever really "make" one person understand anything. It is why over the years as a teacher I have become increasingly a fan of self-directed, even "solitary" education. Being alone with the material to really struggle with it, free of judgement, free of grades, and free of what might be called overcoaching, and needing not to do much more than share honestly about what they've learned (or haven't) -- this really does seem to be what's missing from so many students who just don't "get" math, or physics or philosophy or economics. Expectations seem to poison all relationships and inhibit honest communication.

Somewhat ironically, the author encourages the author simply encourages people to set more expectations for themselves. It's a blandly laudable goal but not terribly interesting and I can't imagine that even individuals committed to living outside of their "comfort zone" would necessarily develop the nuance and courage to needed to discover the truth.
posted by nixerman at 7:41 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Every two years or so, I try coleslaw again. About a month ago I finally found a coleslaw that I liked. It was a life-changing moment.
posted by Scientist at 7:44 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's been some studies recently that show that our brains usually consider our future self an entirely unrelated person. It's part of the reason self-discipline is so hard -- we know that piece of cake we're eating is going to make somebody fat, but at some level we don't connect that the somebody is us.

My Own Worst Enemy
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:23 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]



I definitely feel like I see this with math a lot, but just as frequently, I encounter people who "can't draw". And I want to be like, "of course you can! Here! Just grab a marker and do a stick figure! We're not grading you on this! Fuckin' make a scrawl, yo!"


This is why Exquisite Corpse is the best game. It start out all "Oh, no. I can't draw!" But several drinks and foldy pieces of paper later, and Mr./Ms. Can'tDraw is amazed at their newfound power*.










*Which involves drawing boobs where they don't belong about 90% of the time. But that is how you win Exquisite Corpse.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:45 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


So regarding this whole bad at math thing. Where do you start if you want to give it another go? Is there a go to book for instilling a love of math in adults? A free online course? A clever video game to show that Algebra is fun?

Answering my own question with google and askmefi, I found the following resources. Can anyone add to them?

Cool Tool recommends Dragon Box to completely reshape the way you look at algebra.

AskMeFi:
Take a math course to overcome math fear?
Mr. Math Monster, I presume?
I'm 25 and I need a new foundation in basic math!
Maybe dyscalculia, maybe badly wired neurons
posted by Telf at 8:51 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is one of the things I like about meeting strangers, actually. When it goes well, I mean. New friends don't know that you've already been assigned a role by your current social circle - and sometimes that means they pick up on some aspect of your personality that's been latent for years because you've been typecast as the funny one or the serious one or the peacemaker or whatever. (At their best, dates can be like this but more so.)
posted by en forme de poire at 9:24 PM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


This post is fascinating, but I'm actually kind of afraid to revisit my stupid, life-ruining assumptions because they're so deeply embedded. I can't do math or art, I can't sing, and I don't like myself much at all. I get choked up in art supply stores because I always wanted do badly to art. Gonna go cry now.
posted by Occula at 9:49 PM on October 8, 2012


The only common thread among my parents, my sister, and me is that as we've aged we've become more liberal on social issues. But I have always thought that people tend to become more conservative as they age, for that is what I think I see the most. Do others sense themselves as becoming more liberal (or conservative) as they age?
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 10:02 PM on October 8, 2012


Sometimes I wonder if a lot of this comes down to peoples' basic natures. I'm the kind of person who hates to compete, and I take being insulted for something as a reason to get up and leave. I'm not challenged by it, it doesn't make me want to try harder, it makes me dislike the other person and want to leave.

I'm also becoming more liberal as I age, largely due to the information I'm surrounding myself with. As I learn more about other peoples' lives, I more and more think we need to collectively make a world in which everyone is given the support to succeed.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:19 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do others sense themselves as becoming more liberal (or conservative) as they age?

I'm so far to the left I don't even talk to people about politics because they realize I'm serious about what I'm saying and start inching away and have only become moreso as I age, as I become more acutely conscious of how fortunate and how lucky I was and am and just how tenuous my hold on the metaphorical ladder has been and continues to be.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:04 PM on October 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Whoa! I actually like broccoli! Everything I've ever known is a lie!

Try steaming it instead of boiling it and you too might like broccoli, he said from experience.

Y'all should probably mock me for saying this at the ripe old age of 38, but this whole article is a twentysomething's idea of insightful. That's the time when for most people there's the first chance to look back and re-evaluate your choices in life, when you've built up enough history and awareness to know some of the paths not taken or choices made that could've been made better. It's also that time when you're finally start to drop that high school/uni shell of being a certain kind of person (I'm a punk rocker|goth|jock|nerd|pretty little princess|) as more pressing concerns (partner, kids, career, et all) take up your attention and you move out of the social milieus that enforce such strict characterisations.

Been there, done that and then you get a little bit older and you realise you haven't got the time to re-evaluate everything in your life anyway.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:30 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hearing about people who are "bad at math" reminds me of the immortal words of Cady Heron: "I pretended to be bad at math so that you'd help me. But the thing is, I'm not really bad at math. I'm actually really good at math. You're kind of bad at math."
posted by knile at 11:40 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


MartinWisse: "Try steaming it instead of boiling it and you too might like broccoli, he said from experience."

Or better yet roast it with some sea salt and a tiny bit of sugar sprinkled on top. Delicious!

Funny enough, an earlier me loved green beans and bean dishes in general. I can't stand green beans these days and don't like beans all that much. It's weird because I love to eat a lot of foods I hated as a kid and some I didn't like all that much just a couple of years ago.
posted by wierdo at 11:59 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


watch out for people who want to dissolve the ego. they've got a replacement ready.

Depending on what's meant by "ego" that might well be true. In many older esoteric traditions the original intent of such advice can be worth considering, if by "ego" is meant the over-dominance of the left brain, cutting off the creative powers and intuitive insights of the right brain, limiting us to "all the crap we learned in high school" as t'were.
posted by Twang at 12:33 AM on October 9, 2012


Or better yet roast it with some sea salt

So much this. And even some garlic crushed in olive oil and drizzled on top. Cut it up small and it caramelizes at the tips and tastes like Chinese crispy seaweed.
posted by phl at 4:29 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


For an insane moment I thought the above exhortation to "roast it with some sea salt" referred to The Ego.

Which led to a really fun daydream of Gordon Ramsey suddenly taking up Zen, so thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:53 AM on October 9, 2012


"This is CRAP! It's gonna kill someone. But that's okay. We all die eventually and there's no reason to get so angry about food. You did your best."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:22 AM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


About a month ago I finally found a coleslaw that I liked. It was a life-changing moment.

Everyone who lives in Madison must give Marigold a try. They serve cole slaw by default with everything, which I ignored forever because I always hated cole slaw. BUT THEN
posted by Jpfed at 7:37 AM on October 9, 2012


Hearing about people who are "bad at math" reminds me of the immortal words of Cady Heron: "I pretended to be bad at math so that you'd help me. But the thing is, I'm not really bad at math. I'm actually really good at math. You're kind of bad at math."

And so it's not necessarily 'bad at math' as it is 'I'm bad with bad math instructors'. Where are the lucid, patient math instructors? Why are they not the precedent? My experience as an adult attempting to overcome math phobia: people who are 'good at math' often don't know why they enjoy that specific ease and facility, though they will eagerly attribute it to character and native intelligence.
posted by methinks at 7:47 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will also say that the opposite has been true for me, re: math people versus liberal arts people. I just so happened to show an aptitude for math and science around that age that people start to show aptitude for things. I always loved books and literature, art, drawing, painting. Math came along and I got into it, along with programming. Guess what my conservative parents thought would be my destiny? Thus I became a "computer person" and convinced my teenage self that I didn't have a strong enough "left brain" to do creative stuff like playing music, acting, writing, or making art. This manifested itself in a quais-Randian dislike of all things liberal arts. Liberal artsy people sucked off the teat of the hard-working engineers, the people who really accomplished things. The liberal arts kids' pursuits were quaint and silly. Art itself was silly. And contemporary art was the silliest of all. I recently saw my friend who is an accomplished artist in a grad program and I found myself weirdly falling back into making fun of art out of habit. All because a consortium of assholes ten years ago decided I wasn't creative, and I was still bitter about the decisiveness of their sentence.
posted by deathpanels at 8:42 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Who taught them to be so self-conscious about it, so self-conscious that they wouldn't even try?

A lot of adults become visibly uncomfortable in the presence of another adult who tries things and “fails” (ie: isn’t awesome at them from the first attempt), so if you’re an adult who likes to try new things, you also have to learn to shake this off.

this whole article is a twentysomething's idea of insightful. That's the time when for most people there's the first chance to look back and re-evaluate your choices in life

Not everyone is in the same boat after high school, and particularly if you move to a new place with new people, your opportunity to reinvent yourself is going to be markedly different from someone who finds themselves moving in the same social circles among people they’ve always known. It’s clear from comments here and on the original article that some people in their 30s and 40s (and up) reach a point where this kind of reassessment becomes realistic or urgent enough that it’s undertaken for the first time. Though I think it does become harder to do as you get older, because the shock of realization carries with it a sadness over more time wasted and less left to spend wisely. And of course more decisions (probably) set in stone.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:08 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


This post is worth remembering. Often.

Side note: Above a lot of people mention "that bad gym teacher". If you do meet someone who is smart, knows the importance of teamwork, fairness, sportmanship, and loves learning and just understands physical activity, don't discourage them from being a gym teacher because it's "just gym". And don't talk down to people that are gym teachers. It's one of those jobs that doesn't get a whole lot of respect.
posted by ejaned8 at 10:27 AM on October 9, 2012


Interesting article - when he got to the part about being 31, that sounded about right to me. I think a lot of folks go through something like this around 30, when we are at last relieved of the horrible burden of being cool. 19 year old ETW would have been shocked to hear how much he would one day love country music and football. He would have cited all the assholes on his hometown team and he would have been right about them but wrong about the game. As for the country, he still hadn't heard much Johnny Cash at that age and could not therefore be expected to have any damn clue what he was talking about.

Forwarding this to a friend who needs to read it BADLY. She's a weird case - someone who moveed out of the midwest and shed all the conservative ideas but not the style of closed-off thinking. For someone who fancies herself an open person, she shuts down on anything and everything that vexes her even once - whole disciplines, artforms, genres, foods, entire cities. It's aggravating beyond belief to try and get her out of her bubble because she decides she hates what's happening before it even starts. We don't hang out much lately, honestly.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:56 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm curious if anyone has had the experience of both hating (or being totally uninterested in) and bad at sports -- and then being turned around by a great gym teacher. If so, I'm curious about what that teacher did.

I never met or heard of such a teacher, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

If a kid likes sports but is bad at them, he will be easier to reach (by a gifted teacher) than if he has no interest in them or actively dislikes them. Which was the case with me. There was no tradition of sports in my family. My parents didn't watch sports, play sports, or toss balls around with me. (They were scholarly types.) I didn't have any older siblings -- or even many friends -- who were into sports. And I was bad at them. If someone had told me, "I can help you get better at sports," I probably would have said, "Don't bother," because I didn't have a secret desire to excel at them.

I've heard a people say similar things about Math -- and some other subjects -- about how they started from a point of hatred or indifference and then were inspired by a teacher, but I've never heard anyone say, "I hated sports until Mr. Jones's class!"
posted by grumblebee at 10:57 AM on October 9, 2012


I'm curious if anyone has had the experience of both hating (or being totally uninterested in) and bad at sports -- and then being turned around by a great gym teacher. If so, I'm curious about what that teacher did.

There was a teacher who was split between our school and others who was an Olympic coach, and clearly was not only a cut above in terms of training but also attitude, and was absolutely the kind of person who drew students to him and inspired just about everyone he touched. In particular I think he inspired a lot of kids whose only opportunity (especially for boys) had been “team sports or nothing” because suddenly here was this guy who knew a lot about individual forms of competition where the popularity contest of team sports just didn’t factor. Unfortunately, he was a rare commodity, and we had our regular PE teachers and peers to reinforce the usual norms most of the time.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:21 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was a wee tadpole, I had some very unfortunate accidents while trying to learn to ride a bike. I mangled myself on a TRICYCLE once. Ever since then, I just wrote it off. "I don't ride bikes," I'd say. "It's like Calvin and Hobbes. They hate me, I hate them." It's been nearly 30 years since those days. My roomies have scads of bikes, just heaping piles of the damn things all over. Every time I walk by one, there is that same glimmer of distrust. "If I want to go anywhere faster than an easy stroll, I'll drive," I say. I still haven't ridden a bike in my entire adult life. Not once. Maybe I'll give it a shot tonight.

keep an eye on the Fairfax Obits if i was right all along, tho
posted by FatherDagon at 11:53 AM on October 9, 2012


Okay, here goes, one more time....


Nope. Still an atheist.


I laughed, but actually, changes in religious beliefs are one of the prime examples of exactly what this article is talking about. People have experiences even into old age that drastically upend their set thinking and locked-in views on this subject in complex and interesting ways. This goes in every way you can imagine (realizing God doesn't exist when your significant other dies in a car crash; looking at your newborn daughter and having spirituality awakened within you for the first time; countless other examples.) A lengthy book can and probably has been written about it.
posted by naju at 11:54 AM on October 9, 2012


naju,

the important thing is that these changes are involuntary. So, I mean, I certainly can buy that even things that we might consider to be somewhat "set in stone" are actually mutable...but this mutability does not mean that we can change these things by force of will.

So I mean, maybe the car crash could make you realize God doesn't exist. OR maybe it could make your realize God *does* exist. There's no guarantee which effect will happen, and you don't choose either.
posted by subversiveasset at 12:02 PM on October 9, 2012


Well, it could also be just talking to a really cool friend you made while traveling (like the dance music example.) Don't mean to derail. My examples weren't great, you're right.

If you're open-minded you'll acknowledge that just about anything you believe could change throughout your life. Everything is fluid. This should hit home, whether the topic is dance music or core fundamental beliefs you swear on your life by:

"A conclusion is not the point at which you find the truth, it’s only the point at which the exploring stops. We do it quickly and unconsciously and the effects are long-lasting. In no time you’re left with a standing belief, a sort of surrogate 'fact' in your head, left over from a time when you didn’t know any better."
posted by naju at 12:31 PM on October 9, 2012


Okay, here goes, one more time....

Nope. Still an atheist.


Me too. Here's the problem, though. By saying, "God doesn't exist," we tend to shut Him out of our minds, as if existence was all important. Hamlet doesn't exist. Nor does Frodo Baggins. Nor, in a a sense, does Abraham Lincoln, since the past is gone.

If we want to expand our minds, we should be suspicious every time we sum something up in a sentence, such as "God doesn't exist." Not because that sentence is necessarily wrong, but because it slams a door to further thought.

(In systems of formal logic, existence isn't even a trait. If I say "P implies Q and Q implies R, so P implies R," it doesn't matter whether P, Q and R exist or not. There's a lot we can say about a system -- any system, including Religion -- aside from whether or not it maps onto reality.)

Here's a game I've been playing since I was a teenager: whenever I'm sure about something, I try to imagine another planet (or dimension) in which the opposite is true. Okay, so God doesn't exist, but what would it be like in a Universe in which He does exist? I then try to take that fiction as far as it can go, imagining all sorts of outcomes and scenarios.

I often do this with politics and ethics. I'm a Liberal, so it's useful for me to imagine planets where Conservatives are right. What would conditions have to be like on those planets?

Putting mind-stretching ideas on other planets gives you a way to think about them safely. One of the main reasons we don't stretch out minds is fear. Staying on a mental track helps us make survival decisions in the real world. We're pattern-matching creatures, and we are loath to give up matches! If a guy has been mistreated by three blonde women, it's useful for him to conclude that blondes are bitches, whether it's true or not.

I avoid comparing my imagined other planets with Earth. The end goal isn't to say, "Yeah, but we don't live on that planet, so Conservatives are wrong!" The longer I keep the planets from colliding, the longer my mind stays open, and the more I have to think about.

Thinking this way allowed me to make a huge discovery about my relationship with God. I started imagining a world in which He exists -- a world in which everyone knows He exists. In that world, it's proven and no one doubts it. God is basically the Christian God, and He loves us all unconditionally.

I then imagined myself living in that world. How would I feel? Truth is, from what I can tell, I would feel almost nothing. I wouldn't love God or hate him. If there was risk of going to hell -- or great rewards to be had in heaven -- I would probably go through the motions to the best of my ability. But, at my core, I'd neither be devoted to or repulsed by God.

I'd be intellectually fascinated in Him, as I would be in Martians if we discovered life on Mars. I'd want to know what God was like and why He did the things He did. But, in the end, I'd go on paying my taxes, taking out the trash, etc. Most of the time, I'd think about stuff at work, about my relationships with friends, and so on.

So the first thing I learned was that God leaves me emotionally cold. I don't love or hate Him. I feel nothing. The closest I get to feeling anything is a tiny bit creeped out by the fact that He loves me unconditionally. It feels like someone I'm not into has a crush on me. But if HE leaves me alone, I'm cool with him. Whatever.

From this, I learned that the foundation of my atheism is this coldness. I rarely debate atheism and religion these days, because I got bored doing it years ago (same arguments over and over), but if someone insisted, I could provide a very strong intellectual argument for atheism.

I have read a lot of Philosophy, and I'm pretty well educated in the History and texts of Religion. So I'd assumed my atheism was rooted in intellectualism. It's not. The intellectual component is strong, but what really keeps me an atheist on the emotional level -- which is always the most profound level -- is my complete lack of caring about God.

This has little to do with the fact that, as far as I'm concerned, He doesn't exist. There are plenty of fictional characters I care deeply about.

So going to Planet God didn't destroy my atheism. I don't think it strengthened my atheism, either. But it did open my mind enough to help me understand my atheism.

(Be suspicious any time you think you hold some belief for 100% intellectual reasons. We are not 100% intellectual creatures, so that's rarely the case. People are often scared to "go there," because they worry that if they have an emotional bias, their intellectual framework might be suspect. That's not necessarily the case. But even if it is, not "going there" is a mind-shutting technique.)
posted by grumblebee at 1:30 PM on October 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


naju,

I'm not saying your examples aren't great. I'm just saying they temper the conclusion we should reah.

I'm perfectly fine with everything being fluid. That anything I believe could change throughout my life.

BUT that does not mean that these things change because we choose for them to change. So, the idea of "here goes, one more time...nope, still atheist" is an expected response.
posted by subversiveasset at 1:44 PM on October 9, 2012


BUT that does not mean that these things change because we choose for them to change. So, the idea of "here goes, one more time...nope, still atheist" is an expected response.

I agree.

It's always puzzled me when people talk about choosing to believe. All my life, I've heard variants of "Hey, if you choose to be an atheist, that's your business, but..." or "If you choose to be a believer, then..." It makes no sense to me, unless they're just talking about publicly saying your an atheist or a believer.

I can choose to participate (or not) in a religious ritual. I can choose to say I'm religious or atheistic. I can choose to study religion or atheism. But I can't choose to be a believer or non-believer. I'm not going to to go as far as to say no one can, because I don't have access to other people's brains, but if there are people who can simply choose whether to believe or not, I have no idea how they do it.

What tends to happen, I think, is that someone gets swayed by something -- evidence, an emotional experience, or some combination of the two -- and then finds himself believing or disbelieving. That certainly happened with me. I gradually became swayed by atheism. There was no point at which I thought, "Well, there's atheism and there's theism. And I'm going to pick ..." And even if I'd done that, it would have been merely to self-identify as an atheist or a theist, not to actually be one.

One can choose to study evidence. Perhaps one has some ability to ignore certain things or tune them out. But actual belief is a state that happens involuntarily, after some sort of unconscious tipping point.
posted by grumblebee at 2:02 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


As the FPP said, we can choose to structure our lives in ways that allow our crusty old beliefs and assumptions about the world to be actively challenged. We can choose to cultivate a mindset where we approach things with open consideration and active attention instead of constantly reinforcing our set of beliefs with every new piece of information we gain. This totally applies to religion, philosophy, aesthetics... I can go out tonight with the right mindset and do something to actively challenge my thinking on any of a number of subjects. This is a healthy and non-dogmatic way of living.
posted by naju at 2:10 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Agreed, naju, but there's a difference between choosing to be open to change and choosing to change.
posted by grumblebee at 2:17 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lengthy book can and probably has been written about it.

For a good time, read "The Varieties of Religious Experience".
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:19 PM on October 9, 2012


This is getting into strange territory, but making a mental exercise out of erasing all of the assumptions supporting your belief and forcing yourself to build it all up again from scratch can be very illuminating. I think you can choose for your beliefs to genuinely change even apropos of nothing but thinking really hard, yeah.

Maybe even that constitutes merely "being open to change", too, I'm not good at semantics.
posted by naju at 3:11 PM on October 9, 2012


(And zen mind is 'no-mind', even, but still can lead to drastic shifts in belief systems, right. Not sure where I'm going with this.)
posted by naju at 3:23 PM on October 9, 2012


naju,

I have no problem with the FPP idea of structuring our lives in a way that makes our "crusty old beliefs and assumptions" to be challenged -- I just also think that there is a possibility that we can make ourselves miserable by assuming we can consciously choose to change certain things about ourselves.

I appreciate religious conversion and deconversion narratives. I am certainly aware that people's beliefs can change -- even radically -- over time. However, I come from a religious tradition that very much emphasizes this idea that beliefs are chosen, and so one's lack of faith or lack of testimony points to the person's own faults -- the person must be wrong, not trying hard enough, or not doing things right, or not enduring to the end, etc., because the church is (of course) true.

It was really liberating to realize that no, beliefs aren't chosen. It was liberating to realize that yeah, people's beliefs can change, and people can have experiences that change those beliefs, but even these experiences aren't chosen.

I still very much engage with the people of my religious upbringing, because I would like to understand what makes it work for them. Why it seems compelling to them. I am irritated by explanations that seem to dismissive like, "Well, they are brainwashed" or "Well, they aren't really looking at the evidence," because so much of my life was people insisting that I was broken for what I thought, felt, and believed (although with different words: "Well, he just wants to sin"..."Well, he was offended.")

Anyway, to move to a different subject...I have been trying to change my tastes (and I certainly think that tastes are a lot more versatile than something like religious beliefs, or, say, sexuality). I have a sweet tooth and a set of, I dunno, "immature" tastes to go along with it. I cringe at the taste of alcohol (really, the facial expressions are pretty hilarious, my friends say), tea, and coffee, but people keep saying, "Well, you just haven't found the right thing you like." The right mixed drink or the right kind of alcohol or the right brew or the right varietal or whatever.

OK, fine. So I'm open to trying new things.

But it's kinda tiring to try something new that my friends insist will taste good (and to them, maybe it does taste good?) yet to me, it tastes totally nasty. And then I feel bad because I have to either stomach down the rest of it or let it go to waste. I feel irritated because I could have had something that I actually appreciated instead.

In the FPP, the guy writes:

Let the phrases “not my thing” or “not for me” become red flags to you whenever you hear yourself say them. How old was the person who decided that? Was it even a decision, or just an emotional reaction? How much do you really know about it?

But you know...the thing I'm finding is that it's not some guy from 5 or 10 or 15 years ago who is saying this is "not my thing" or "not for me." For me, it's what I re-established 2 weekends ago. Last weekend. This morning at Starbucks.

At what point am I allowed to say, "OK, I'm perfectly open to the idea of change, but I'd rather spend my time and money on things I already know I appreciate"?
posted by subversiveasset at 4:10 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Years ago I made a grilled cheese sandwich for myself. I asked my girl friend (now wife) if she wanted me to make one for her. She said, "No, I don't like grilled cheese but can I try a bite of yours just to check?" She had a bite and loved it so I made a sandwich for her and she loved that too. "I guess I like grilled cheese now," she said.

Ever since then we've both made a point of trying foods we "don't like" every now and again. Maybe the time I last tried that food it wasn't prepared well or I wasn't in the mood for it or maybe I'm just older. It might not have been the way that I make grilled cheese so much as her getting older and having different tastes.

In a similar vein, one of the greatest realizations I had shortly before I turned 30 is that I'm an idiot. I think about the person I was and the things I thought when I was 25 and realized how many of those beliefs were wrong. I realized that my 25 year old self was an idiot. When I was 25, I could say that same thing about my 20 year old self, 15, 10, etc. Then I realized that my 35 or 40 year old self will probably say the same thing about my current self.

Since I know I'm an idiot, it gives me permission to question myself and really examine my beliefs so that intelligence gap hopefully won't be so large. It also lets me be a lot less self-conscious. It isn't a big deal when I fail, after all, I'm an idiot but I keep getting smarter so I'll succeed eventually.
posted by VTX at 5:28 PM on October 10, 2012


EmpressCallipygos: For an insane moment I thought the above exhortation to "roast it with some sea salt" referred to The Ego.

Which led to a really fun daydream of Gordon Ramsey suddenly taking up Zen, so thanks.


He actually had a three-part-show where he went to India and ended up in a retreat of some sort, with a Guru, where the food was all vegetarian. Since he regularly insults vegetarians, seeing him limited to that was kinda funny (spoiler: he liked it) but the comments of the Guru saying that his temper was in part because of his heavily meat-focused diet was completely hysterical, as was the Gurus recommendation he switch to veg only twice a week.

grumblebee: I can choose to participate (or not) in a religious ritual. I can choose to say I'm religious or atheistic. I can choose to study religion or atheism. But I can't choose to be a believer or non-believer. I'm not going to to go as far as to say no one can, because I don't have access to other people's brains, but if there are people who can simply choose whether to believe or not, I have no idea how they do it.

One of the conclusions I and my agnostic mom came to was that belief/faith in deities doesn't seem to be a choice. I'm the only religious person in my immediate family, and I can't remember a time I didn't believe (though it became clear quickly that I wasn't Christian); my teenage years weren't spent trying to discover if I believed, it was trying to discover who was going to answer and what fit my nature, and once I did - once I found my gods - faith was easy and required no effort (lack of faith requires effort). Contrariwise, even when my very agnostic mother is exploring metaphysics, she didn't believe, she explored to see what would happen (which has caused conflict within that community because she doesn't use the language of faith and belief). She's smarter than I am, but that seems to be orthogonal to our faith or lack thereof.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:31 PM on October 11, 2012


« Older Your Mother Should Know   |   Drink your juice, Shelby Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post