Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Judging Others Against Our Own Strengths

•  I'm poor at mechanical stuff. A friend who's good at nothing BUT mechanical stuff has to fight to remember I'm not a total idiot. I have to keep reminding him he doesn't need to speak slowly to me.

•  A fellow SIGA investor has testily cut off all communication. He's expert in pill production, and I said something ignorant on that topic, causing him to conclude that I'm not so smart, after all.

•  Most jazz musicians feel superior to the general public because they can improvise whereas others can't. The fact that most people have no interest in that skill matters little.

•  If you worked for twenty years learning to balance 200 quarters on your elbow, you'd cluck your tongue at everyone's laughably uncultivated sense of elbow balance.

Most grown-ups lack a crucial awareness every child has: that human society is an aggregation of specialties. The pilot doesn't need to know how to repair computers, because there are people for that. We can be proud of our talents and abilities, but everyone's got one.

But something about human nature makes adults irrationally judge others against our own strengths. It's a sort of selfishness ("I'm a master carpenter! Pay me, helpless shlub, and I will deign to build your house!"), and it runs in opposition to the drive toward sharing ("Hey, I build houses. You slice meat. I pay, you pay...and together, it all works!"). Which is interesting, because any economic system could be seen as massive competition or as massive sharing. They are absolutely both at the same time, but people fix their perspectives on one view or the other. And isn't that the entire socio/economic/political schism, right there? Two perspectives on the very same result - a unified field theory encompassing both Karl Marx and Ayn Rand!

People with "fun" professions (cupcake bakers, toymakers, comedians, jazz musicians, food critics, etc.) tend to be miserable bastards who are no fun at all to be around. Truck mechanics and sewer workers tend to be much more fun and well-adjusted. I think it's because they are a little more cognizant of the notion of trades and specialties. People with sexier-seeming skills assume others envy their particular fortes - and are therefore inferior to them. Which makes such people miserable bastards who are no fun to be around.

You may want to read a related previous article about "Vocation and Identity".

UPDATE: Einstein said it earlier...and better.

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