Default privileges

… about the backhand of positive feedback

Started tutoring my niece in math not long ago. She somehow came to the crazy idea, that she wants to be a bad*ss coder, therefore needs to be in a kick*ss high-school, where high level math and physics is needed for the entrance exams. (Might I say, no one told her, that this is what she should do…) So, here we all are, happy, patting each other on the back what a smart girl she is, figuring this all out by herself, with her pretty little thirteen year old brain. Now me — being the oh so busy, not so present member of this family, I told her to let me know if she needs any tutoring, and I’ll help her polish her skills to make sure she has a killer presentation and oral exams.

So, the summer passed, with her burrowed in a dark corner, her eyes glued to her phone and industrial techno pumping from her bluetooth headphones. Her being a top student, posing with  diplomas at the end of each school year, I did not worry about this too much. Then one day, she told me “we should learn”. We sat down all happy, and when I asked her what she’d work on, and what are her questions, she gave me a very puzzled look. Like: whaaaaaaaat??? Turns out that “we should learn” means “tell me what to do, how to do it, but even better if you do it for me”.

I was conflicted to how can the school system support the fact, that the students are empowered to reach for the sky, but they put little to no content behind. I mean it’s great to boost confidence, but weigh it out on the other end of the lever with a reality check every now and then. Would you?

And then I started thinking, how is this different in grown-up world? Have we developed along the road, the self-criticism required to be able, to honestly reflect the boundaries of our capabilities? Or did we also get lost in the world of positive reinforcements and the self-help industry? 

“Privilege is the greatest enemy of right”

- Marie Ebner-Eschenbach
© 2021 Albert Erika. All rights reserved.

Seems, that criticism is very much frowned upon, confronting others with their lack of knowledge is seen as aggression and shows poor leadership skills. While making a sh*t sandwich is a method taught at leadership trainings (sh*t sandwich = positive feedback + criticism + positive feedback). Sure… We all love it, if our work is valued. But why do we fear so much being called out on a mistake or oversight? Have we lost our ability or will to develop? Have we lost the modesty required by most professions, to admit when we are not enough for a task?

While my niece’s biggest problem might be not getting into a super high-school, what happens in the industry? What can be the consequences if you add 1+1 and the result is 3? If you’re in the economic sector: good for you! But I would not like to have my house built by engineers, who get to the same result. So if we cannot give negative feedback, where does the natural selection begin in this world of superhumans? We are all entitled, deserving and demanding what is ours.

Have we suddenly all become privileged or ignorant?  

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