Get off your high horse

I try not to be self-absorbed when I am engaged with people. I also try to learn, to not have “expert’s paradigm” when I am talking to people in casual or business conversations, even if it’s a topic that I have a lot of experience in.

This amounts to being interested in the other person enough to learn about them and learn about what they know. It requires not assuming that I know more than them. It also involves a lack of talking about myself and what I know, until it’s truly appropriate.

This doesn’t work as well in today’s world. Perhaps people’s real world views are morphing into the “social media paradigm” where you have a very short time span to sell a persona or a knowledge set to someone. I swear 8 out of 10 people I meet consider themselves pros, or awesome in some other way, and if you don’t literally fight for attention you get demoted to a learner who knows less, has less or has done less. I watch people do this to each other all the time.

Thus is the way of our social hierarchy in the social media era world. What you look like, talk like, drive and have are somehow proportionate to your capabilities and experience. “If he was as good as he says he is, he wouldn’t be driving that.” “He doesn’t “look” like he knows that much.” And so on.

Sometimes, competitiveness is the tone, “You started working in this field in 2002? Oh, well I started working in it in 2001 so I’ve been around for ALL of it…” Instead of being cooperative, “Oh, what have you learned in that time?” and then they in turn try to learn what you’ve learned in that time. Sharing knowledge and ideas. What a concept.

Most often, I would say, people are just self-absorbed. They think they know a bunch of shit, probably more than you, and so they don’t even really listen when you talk. They are here to disseminate information because they know things.

It’s not that they even thought about competing with you, they just automatically consider themselves and their knowledge more important and there’s nothing you could say that would be that interesting to them, so you are tuned out. Their own voice is in their head rehearsing for their turn to talk.

Are you a student, or a know-it-all?

Sometimes just simply asking a question will cause the other person to automatically assume that they know more than you, and they will assume authority in the conversation. This is a tragedy. For example, you see someone doing a workout and posting about it on social media. Now, imagine you yourself have been working out a long time and you know quite a bit about the topic, but you are always curious and looking for new information so you ask them, “Hey, I see you are doing this workout. Where did you get the programming for that, and how is it working for you?” Instead of actually answering the question, they reply, “If you want to understand programming you have to start with [insert arbitrary favorite program here] and research the subject.” Often, they’ll even go on to instruct you or offer suggestions for what you should be doing, even though they have no idea what you know or what you want to accomplish. They are full of themselves. They lack listening skills. The question goes unanswered and another chance to assert social dominance has been exploited. End result, no one learns anything. 

What happened to the concepts of beginner’s mind and always being the student? Sad.

Even worse is the feeling that if you are paid to do a job, like being an instructor or trainer, then you can’t ask any “average” person questions because you are afraid it will make you look like you don’t already know what they know. You somehow think you’re supposed to know everything, so you can’t be seen being “weak” or taking “instruction” from an average person.

It’s a legitimate feeling because people judge you for the surface presentation you put out. Hell, that’s what this post is about. It’s a vicious cycle.

What is even more sad is that you are vulnerable to concealment even when you think you are protected. You can’t even give people a chance to learn who they are and what they’ve done when they are open about it. The one who wants to hide those facts from you? You’ll never see him or her coming. (If you are in the self-defense, tactical, or cool guy badass world and you act this way, your mindset is truly out of touch with your stated goals.)

Listen to people. Ask questions.

People are interesting, and there are a lot of people out there you could learn from. Many of them, though they may not look like it, have done way more shit than you will in 3 lifetimes.

My best conditioning coach–by far–was a fat, silver haired guy that always had a cigar hanging out of his mouth. By today’s standards, no one would even have a training conversation with that guy. The truth is he helped produce several world champions in his younger years (as a trainer for a U.S. Olympic team) and he knew how to pull the best out of every athlete he worked with.

The most capable class attendee I have ever had in terms of self-defense, and who I would put my money on in a street fight, was a skinny, gray haired Nicaraguan guy well into his 60’s that didn’t look like he could do shit. The guy was legitimately dangerous, and though he was small, he was strong as an ox. He grew up in the Revolution Era of a country at civil war. He knew a lot of things about violence and about survival.

Sometimes people are retired, or injured, or have changed careers or family situations and they don’t “appear” to be anything special, but they are. It doesn’t matter what business you are in, this is true in every profession.

And guess what? You aren’t that fucking special, and you probably don’t even know as much shit as you think you do. Putting on a good presentation doesn’t make you a special expert, nor does having popularity on social media, or making a bunch of money (especially if you flaunt it).

Many of the people who maintain these “perfect” images are deeply flawed, and if you look hard enough you will see it. Marital problems, financial problems, regrets, and some are just plain out miserable people seething with envy, jealousy, resentment, fear, cowardice. People can present however they choose to, if they are disciplined enough. Still doesn’t make it real.

Don’t mistake this post as me being upset about someone doing this to me. That shit has been happening and will continue to happen my whole life. I like to keep quality people in my circle, and if you are self-absorbed and full of yourself then you are self-selected out of my circle. If you have anything valuable to say, I’ll listen from a distance. But it’s like everyone does it to everyone, anymore.

What does upset me is how much society suffers and how much our communities suffer because we can’t be real with each other, because everyone has to be damn “expert” or a “pro”.

It upsets me that innovative, creative people are afraid to be vocal or do things because they will be judged harshly. If the old guys that have experience aren’t respected because they don’t look cool, then how can a new guy with no experience survive that social thrashing? (And I’m not even touching on the bullies and trolls, that’s a whole different topic.) They are forced to play the persona game, where substance doesn’t matter as much as your IG game and your wittiness on FB and Twitter.

We all lose

This is my encouragement to you to take the time to actually learn from one another. If someone is trying to learn a new skill, don’t assume they don’t have ANY developed skills. Don’t be afraid to learn a new skill or to ask questions about other people’s views, even if it is what you are an “expert” in. And don’t demote someone’s social rank because they asked a question. Maybe they have a bunch of answers and experience and just want to hear your perspective. Maybe they know more than you because they aren’t afraid to ask questions.

If you are engaging with someone and they don’t ask one follow up question about any of your statements, or about you, they just talk at you, then that person has little interest in you or what you are saying. They are too busy thinking about themselves. It’s not hard to tell.

Take the time to actually listen to someone talk. Ask questions about what they are saying about themselves, ENGAGE with them. You just might start learning things again.

Being self-absorbed is a failure, and it’s one from which we all experience the resultant net loss.

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