Some years ago, in a time where I was quite confident, I had a debate with some guys at my school about animation. I did not pretend to know much, but I saw some clip they showed me and I did not find much fault in it. So I said it looks fine to me. They said well, man, definitely no, you must be blind or a liar. They showed me another clip and I did see a very noticeable improvement. I said yeah, this looks better, but the other one was fine, too. They proceeded to tell me that the first clip was unacceptable. Why? Because it did not follow the rules of animation. I implored and wanted to know about the rules and why they treat them as absolutes. I do not remember the exact words, but they treated me like an idiot and ridiculed me for not finding the first clip horrible and for not knowing about those rules and refused to engage in a respectful conversation.
What did I do wrong? Being unskilled in their territory? Asking questions? Surely there would have been a lot I could have learned from them, but their response just made me angry to the point that I wanted nothing to do with them. One aspect of this that made me angry was that we were both teachers at that school, just in different subjects. I was pretty much the most skilled staff member in all things regarding web development. So what the hell is the point in making me feel bad about not being a skilled animator? To motivate me to not be lazy and do shit? Well, I was doing shit and I was pretty good at it; I just wasn’t an animator, for fucks sake.
In 2014, I made my motorcycle license. My teacher was an extremely insecure and meek person; but when I took lessons from him, he was a condescending asshole.
It is a kind of noob-culture thing. Perhaps it is even perfectly human, because I have noticed this countless of times. In myself, when I first started out making videos and having the first small success. In programming, when somebody did not understand what was obvious to me. In another guy who also directed a video for the first time. I guess you could just call it hubris. It also took me a while to learn that others are not being stupid on purpose just to make me angry.
Yet where it eventually leads is – with me – that I become angry or resentful and just plainly avoid even getting into conversations with people who are better at something than me. When I feel shame for weakness, it does not motivate me to improve; it only motivates me to do my darndest to hide and mask my weakness to avoid shame.
Now, I get nobody owes me respect or anything and surely they can spend their time more usefully than to argue with me about things that they are experts in on a very basic level. But I just do not see why it is a problem to just state it like that. Just say: Listen, I do not enjoy talking to you about this, because I find it too basic. That is absolutely fair. And yeah yeah, it is of course also their perfect right to be condescending and call me a noob. I just do not see where that is supposed to lead. Same with some occasional dudes in the manosphere calling me beta or gamma or fag. Well, man, surely there is something I can learn from you, but I do not feel like sucking up to someone who treats me disrespectfully.
I think that this is a bit of a societal thing, though. Everybody pretends, because everybody is ashamed of being a beginner. But if you are ashamed of being a beginner, you can never embrace the learning process. If you are ashamed of being a beginner, it is hard to open up to somebody’s ideas and submit to their teachings.
I have seen the other side of this also when I was a teacher. Students would just be focused on taking the short way to the goal. They would ask alright, what do I have to do create this and that.
And I would say, well, first study your tools and play around with them with innocent curiosity. Take time for that.
But they never would. They were so afraid of failure, I shit you not, that they wrote some code and then they were extremely hesitant to just try it out and execute it. FYI: Executing code takes about half a second and you immediately get detailed feedback about errors you made.
So they were sitting there, thinking, looking at an empty page, hoping to get the revelation on how to do it right. Instead of just try and err.
My theory, thus, is this: When you shame weakness, people will fake skill – or rather, the appearance of skill. You must be good! You must be the best! No one cares for losers!
They will end up caring more about not being shamed and getting some positive feedback than to actually focus on what they are learning and develop a love for the process.
Unless you are already a pro, you are not allowed to ask questions. You are to be thankful for the master’s time and just do as they say. You are to be grateful that they endure your shameful unskilled presence. You are not to bother the good, respectable ones with your silly questions. I mean, how entitled can you be to dare to ask a question that lets your shameful unskilledness shine through and bother others?
So while you occasionally run into people saying there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers, this is not how people in general seem to live. Ask something in class and even if the teacher may have patience, the others will ridicule you in their blind zest for mindless achievments and unreflected repetition of that which they heard.
At least I can pride myself in having developed a great patience with students. I started out being annoyed by weakness and unskilledness, too, but then I saw other teachers do the same and this reflected my behavior back to me and it not only seemed rude and condescending; it actually made the teacher look extremely stupid, because he/she was basicall giving up responsibility of her task to teach and blaming his/her students for not understanding what she means. This also helped me develop a slight ability to see things from the perspective of a novice and realize the weaknesses in the methods of teaching in the other staff members. I was basically sitting there, thinking to myself: Well, if I did not already know this, this explanation would definitely not help me understand it.
That is when I began to approach teaching not simply as a passing on of knowledge, but as a process to generating genuine understanding. And for that, it is absolutely necessary to be open to the students – the other way around, so to speak. Every student has their own way of understanding and learning, each of them has different questions, different angles that interest them. Each student has a different kind of intellectual docking station. And unless you find a way to make your teachings compatible to their intellectual docking station – to their questions and angles of looking at the subject – they will end up being mediocre marionettes at best.
How can you work on your weaknesses – and let others help you work on them – if you are not allowed to reveal them?
How can you reach the end of a bath when you are not allowed to start at its beginning?