9/18/19: We Don't Need No Education
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
The Morning Mantra is available on iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, Youtube, Soundcloud, Spotify, Youtube and pretty much anywhere podcasts can be found. Transcripts forthcoming on the blog at www.coachedandloved.com
When I catch people staring at me, I assume they are taking notes on how to be AWESOME.
Hi! I’m Coach MK and This is The Morning Mantra.
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Hi, my name is MK Fleming. I'm a run coach based in Denver, Colorado. But this isn't a podcast about running, exactly. Don't tell my clients, but *whispers* we're never really talking about the running. When you know a crap-tastic event is coming it helps to have a mantra to keep you centered and focused as you move through it. You don't have to be an athlete to be hashtag #coachedandloved by coach MK. And if you are here, then you are hashtag #winningatlife.
Today’s mantra is: We Don’t Need No Education
One of my favorite celebrity gossip websites has a recurring feature they call “Photo Assumption”, which explores which photographs editors will choose to match with stories, which ones are approved by a celebrity’s publicist and which are DEFINITELY not. We make lots of assumptions about people, about situations, about things in general without looking for context. Which is why publicists and media training is an industry in and unto itself- a celebrity like Liam Helmsworth KNOWS what photographers will be looking for when he leaves the house the day after rumors start swirling about the demise of his marriage. He could stay inside, he could stay home, he could order takeout, he could use INSTACART- but he left the house without his wedding ring to buy groceries. That’s a small detail, I’ve done that before, right?
Not really. These details are not small ones for anyone who is used to even a modicum of public scrutiny. If rumors are swirling about your marriage, your publicist is going to have a hard time credibly denying them if you keep leaving the house without your wedding ring. So, your publicist is going to school you on NOT making his or her job harder, THEREFORE in these moments we can safely assume, “this photo was staged” and take it as implicit confirmation that the rumors are true (and assume that the photos were staged with Liam’s cooperation).
These games are FASCINATING to me, because I’m from a small town. As Miranda Lambert says, EVERYONE is famous in a small town, and this is true. Everyone knows your business whether you want them to or not, and the strategies celebrities employ to navigate the world can look a LOT like the strategies families in small towns use to hide things. Explanations are always out in the open, the onus is on you to do two steps of work:
Acknowledge it silently when you realize what you see isn’t consistent with facts you are aware or
Ask yourself why that is or consider what facts you may be missing before calling it out (if ever)
The person who fails to go through that two-step process above isn’t well-regarded. These are necessary social skills, and I’ve come to realize they aren’t particularly common ones. There’s something really beautiful about someone who sees what you aren’t saying or can’t say, and offers help without forcing a conversation. Like the farmer who would leave baskets of tomatoes and corn on our front porch during a period when it was well known that my previously affluent family was in crisis. Everyone knew those were my mother’s favorite foods. Everyone knew she wouldn’t accept charity. Everyone knew we needed it. It’s like three-dimensional chess, that basket was a checkmate.
I think most people are inherently good and want to help other people. The issue is we get excited to solve problems and neglect to do it in a way that affirms the other person’s humanity. Outside of a small town setting, we aren’t playing three dimensional chess because we don’t have enough context. Your assumptions are less likely to be correct because you have less information to go on. Attempts to insert your ‘help’ into situations will usually escalate them or insult the person you are trying to ‘help’.
Teach a man to fish...it’s better, right?...unless that person has asked directly for money. The assumptions embedded into your offer to educate may not be kind, the help not helpful.
Here are some examples I’ve encountered recently:
Trying to teach fat people about nutrition ignores the ‘why’ behind their food selections
Trying to teach a poor person how to save money ignores ‘why’ they are systematically unable to get ahead and stay there
Trying to teach a homeless woman about the benefits of breast milk ignores all of the reasons why she would be begging for formula
Trying to teach a person how to ‘be grateful’ when they’ve told you that your help isn’t helpful
Trying to encourage the slow kid to ‘try harder’ ignores how hard they may actually be trying in that moment.
The list is really long, but I can talk about these things for days. And I will have to in therapy because those incidences above triggered twenty-year-old anger. My inner child is Mary-Katherine Brooks from Smith County, Tennessee, and once she set foot in the big city she was in awe of the assumptions people made. “WHERE are you from???” was always the first question, and then they thought they knew me. All kinds of people tried to teach me ALL kinds of things. The help that was offered was very rarely helpful and it was almost never what I asked for. It was usually condescending and insulting. It left permanent scars. “How can you NOT KNOW?!?”- when things are really obvious to you, that reflects your privilege, not the other person’s drive, work ethic, problem-solving capabilities, or intellect.
There are ALL KINDS of unwritten rules and expectations in the white-collar world, codes of conduct that all the other kids already knew. To them, these unwritten rules were basic. They were unaware of their privilege, so my ignorance was inexcusable. My high school guidance counselor existed for teenage pregnancies, serious cases of abuse and neglect, how to get a GED if your family needs you to work; we didn’t know SAT prep courses were a thing, that Georgetown wouldn’t offer remedial courses, that office hours were free and open to everyone, that the good internships would require suits and not offer pay; that a computer lab existed but laptops were still required. I was kind of like a zoo animal, the exotic pet redneck bred in captivity who didn’t know BASIC THINGS. The story was my deficiency, not their privilege, and it was underpinned by casually ugly assumptions about me.
This is way more common than we care to admit. The line between “photo assumption” and “being a judg-ey bastard” can be really thin, depending on the context, the assumptions themselves, and the help you want to give. We can make a LOT of correct assumptions about a photo of a celebrity who isn’t hiding from photographers during a turbulent time. It’s harder to make correct assumptions about the people in our neighborhood, no matter how frequently we interact, no matter how much we may identify with their challenges. It’s easy to lecture people when we think their issues are obvious, it’s hard to listen when they tell us we aren’t helping. It’s hard to believe that we aren’t in the same place when we occupy the same space.
The farmer I referenced earlier died earlier this year, and I often wonder if her kids still play three-dimensional chess. Our problems weren’t solved by those baskets, but our humanity was affirmed...and THAT was helpful. That kind of help, the helpful kind of help, is rare.
*MK speaks firmly*
SO, The mantra: In those moments when you find yourself on the receiving end of advice or ‘education’ you didn’t ask for, the kind of help that isn’t helpful, I want you to hear PINK FLOYD playing on my karaoke machine in the back of your head, singing, “WE DON”T NEED NO EDUCATION”, then SCHOOL that person who is talking to you: tell them EXACTLY why they are wrong, WHAT your limiting issue is, and explain WHAT it is you actually need; then tell them to check their own understanding as well as their privilege before they try to solve another issue with “education”.
*MK speaks softly*
On the flip side: if you see a problem and want to help, understand that what you want to give and what would actually be helpful are probably mutually exclusive. Keep an eye open, look for where ‘what is needed’ and ‘what you want to give’ intersect, like the customer who cancels her standing order for corn and tomatoes. You can’t solve her problems, and you can’t do this for everybody- you deserve to be paid for your work, but the little girl who indirectly receives your act of kindness may never forget it...even if she doesn’t get to thank you properly in your lifetime. That’s what happens when help is actually helpful.
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