Friday, November 30, 2012

Factory Equipped

We've talked lots of times about the common, yet dubious notion that people are some how hard-wired, the idea that some people are good at some things and other people are good at other things and that there's not a whole lot you can do about it. We've talked about the confusion between predisposition and predetermination. We've looked at some pretty extreme examples of people doing what others would have considered impossible, because they assumed the challenge was genetically predetermined.

We've talked and talked and talked about it. Nonetheless, whatever I've been saying hasn't been working. As I sat in the coffee shop the other day, the air was full of phrases like, "I'm the kind of person who has to..." or "I'm just not meant to..."

I know. I could have ignored the buzz in the air and continued typing, but, um, apparently I didn't. Somehow I found myself joining each conversation. Hmm... perhaps the word "interrupt" would provide a more accurate description than "join". I just wanted to ask what the speaker had meant by the phrase so that we could discuss it. Well, actually, I think I started with something like, "That's not even wrong."  Still, I wanted to quickly and logically get to the heart of how utterly ridiculous his or her statement had been.

When logic fails, go to analogy. Technically, analogy is a form of logic, but it's the weakest form, at least from the perspective of a philosopher or logician. Unfortunately, the weakest form of logic often has the strongest sway with the illogical. It's unfortunate in the sense that people think they're being logical when they say things like, "me learning math would be like a leopard changing its spots." (I know, that's simile.)

Unfortunate or fortunate, analogy seems to work. So I tried analogy as a way of explaining neuro-elasticity and the fact that none of us is hardwired.

Opposite-Handed Water Flow
My first use of analogy involved right- and left-handedness (we've talked this one before) and water flow. The right/left-handed part is more an example than an analogy; however, it comes across as analogy or simile.

It goes like this. Being someone who's good or bad at math, good or bad at athletics, good or bad at music and art, is like being someone who's good or bad at right-handedness. Right- or left-handedness are predispositions that are so strong, we never question them as anything but who we are; we never think to challenge them, let alone try to change them.

To make the predisposition even stronger, each thing that we do poorly (e.g., I'm do right-handedness poorly) is typically complemented by something we do well (e.g., but I'm really great at left-handedness). So just like water seeking the path of least resistance (simile on example/simile) we flow our developmental energies in the direction of the easiest trait. The more developmental energy we flow in that direction, the deeper the rut and the greater the disparity between the two traits--we become even better left-handers and apparently worse right-handers. (Note that the unfavored hand never actually got worse; it just never got better.)

Over time the disparity between our right- and left-hands becomes so great that correcting it seems a ridiculous waste of time and energy. Why do something that takes so much work when other things come so easily? Why bother?  So we continue as we have and the gap widens.

Then one day something happens to force a change, (e.g., you break your favored arm and are forced to get by with the underdeveloped arm and hand.) At first it's unbearably challenging. But you have no choice. So you start using your underdeveloped hand. You get better at it. By the time your favored arm has healed, it's not longer your favored arm.

In fact, anyone can become ambidextrous. It's not a question of can. It's a question of putting in the developmental time and energy. Not only that, but despite claims to the contrary, if you're disciplined about it (i.e., no cheating by using your favored hand), it will take you less time and energy as an adult than as a child.

This example/analogy/simile can be extended to any trait of skill. Anyone can become good at anything outside her skill set. It's just a matter of putting in the time and, as is the case with the incapacitated favored arm, avoiding the use of your favored skills and traits.

Factory Equipped
Here's another analogy that I tried the other day.

If you've ever purchased a new car, you might have noticed that the prices of the cars on the lot vary significantly for cars of the same make and model. One Chevy Nova might cost twice as much as the next, even though they're from the same model year. Why? It all comes down to how they were equipped at the factory. One comes with a monster audio system including a CD changer, DVD for the backseats and satellite radio. The other comes with an AM/FM receiver and speakers in the doors. One comes with an automatic six-speed transmission and the other with four-on-the-floor. One comes with leather seats and electronic controls and the other with cloth seats and mechanical controls.

The basics of each car are the same; however, they vary significantly in how they're equipped.

People are the same way. The basics are the same; however, we vary significantly in how we're equipped at the factory. Some of us seem to take to things naturally and others not.

Let's say you're on a budget and can't afford the tricked-out model of the car you want. You purchase the one that comes with fewer factory options. You can't watch DVDs in the back. You can't heat your bum in the luxurious leather seats.  However, you can get safely to and from work every day.

Six-months after purchasing the car, you decide, "Man, I really wish I had a satellite radio so I could listen to BB King's Blues station when I'm driving home from work."

You might think, "Wow, I really should have bought the upgraded version of the car with the heated leather seats and a DVD player so that I could have got the satellite radio." But you didn't. So you resign yourself to listening to whatever's on the FM.

Instead, you might realize that, even though your car didn't come from the factory with a satellite radio, it doesn't mean that you can't still get one. You say to yourself, "Self, on the way home tonight, let's stop at the Best Buy and see about getting a satellite radio installed."

Factory-equipped or not, you can still purchase and install an aftermarket satellite radio. Sometimes the aftermarket installations are way better than what came from the factory.

People are like that, too.

Happy Friday,

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