hegemony

by cloudier

Let’s examine the reasons behind this result, from a purely theoretical point of view.

When people are given a good label, they make an effort to keep it.

If you’re called smart, how do you keep the label? By not trying.

If you try your very best, and fail, then it means you weren’t smart enough, or maybe that you’re not smart anymore at all. So, you try only a little bit, so you can blame your failure on the attribute that no one seems to care about: lack of motivation. The smarter you are, the less you try, because a supergenius should be able to succeed with almost no effort, right?

Plus, the smartness is really outside of your control. You can’t do much to increase your intelligence. Feeling better than others about it would be like feeling better than others because you were born with good looks. So even if eveyone else gives you credit for being smart, if feels weird to give yourself any credit for it. Ironically, it’s precisely because you’re smart that you come to this realization early on.

Now, what if they didn’t praise you for smartness, but praised you for working hard, trying hard, being a go-getter, doing your best always, being motivated, etc.?

Work ethic is something you can control. Your self esteem is no longer tied to some fixed attribute, but to an attribute you can maintain through will. It gives you power over your label.

The only way to keep the label in this case is to actually try your best at things. In fact, it doesn’t really matter if you fail, now. If you tried your best, you can still feel proud of yourself no matter what the outcome is. The outcome mattered in the smartness case, but here the process matters.

Lastly, it’s an attribute you can genuinely give yourself credit for, because you’re the one willing yourself to try your best, so it’s not something that you just happened to have at birth.

If you had been praised for being motivated, early 20s (most of reddit) is when you become the most powerful. You’re a young adult, and you can finally get things done, and have an influence on the world. Moreover, early 20s is all about taking your life under your control. Those who were praised for being go-getters now shine bright.

But what if you were praised for being smart? When you’re in your early 20s, you’ve lost the amazing superlearning child brain that you used to have. You introspect on your mind, and feel dull. You begin to worry that your time is over, that you can no longer match the learning ability of your younger days, and that your worth has gone down. Now, more than ever, you shy away from trying very hard, to deny this reality and maintain the label.

Is it all the fault of the praisers? No, of course not. They didn’t live your life for you. However, they helped define your backwards value system that set you up for poor assessments of yourself. But, you’re old enough to redefine those values, and there’s no better time than now. After all, in the end, hard work and motivation is a far more praiseworthy thing than smartness. So stop caring if you fail and (this is the hard part) stop caring whether you remain smart in the eyes of others. In their minds, your main attribute should be that you are motivated and always trying and always going above and beyond what effort is asked of you.

(When I say you, I don’t mean you you, but the hypothetical person reading this)


Edit: In the comments, I’ve noticed some repeating links, so I’ll post them here for the benefit of redditors who only read the top few posts.

How Now To Talk To Your Kids – In many ways an un-tl;dr of this post; I remember reading this several years ago, and reflecting on it at length. I came to certain conclusions about my life, internalized the knowledge, and forgot about the source. Thank you to those who posted it. Definitely a lot of credit goes to that article, so if you feel this comment applies to you, I highly suggest reading it.

The Secret To Raising Smart Kids – I also remember reading this one, and it’s somewhat similar.

Self-handicapping – It has a name.

I liked this article – it was interesting. However, there were things I disliked about it, for example the use of literary techniques such as emotive language in order to antagonise Darwin’s theory, although I guess it’s often difficult to generate reader interest without it.
I know too little about sexual selection to be able to give a judgement on the validity of each theory, although if I had to choose, I would choose the road in the middle – most things seem to be caused by a variety of issues although they can have disproportionate influence.

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