Saturday, February 02, 2013

Positive and Negative

Several long talks with LLR last week.  In between conversations about martial arts and teaching, politics, ethics and history and layered interpretation of spiritual writing LLR brought up two schools of thought (literally, formal schools) of interpretation in a certain well-known holy book.  One, as she described it, focused on fulfilling the positive intent of the work.  The ritual existed for some good.  Do the good.  The other school focused on following the procedures strictly.  Don't do anything wrong.

Lightbulb moment.  One of those tiny epiphanies.  Not a real mind blower, but a lot of subtle implications:

When you are training (anything, not just martial arts or SD).  Do you try to do it well?  Or do you try to not make mistakes.

On one level, they seem to get to a similar goal.  If you never make mistakes, what you do, by definition, must be perfect.  So you are doing it well.  That's pretty logical.

But it's not.  Too often, flawless is lifeless.  Trying to create a positive impression feels different and looks different than trying to avoid a negative impression.  Good things happen when you try actively to do well.

But mistakes, especially in this field, can be dangerous or deadly.  Costly.  And so it makes sense to put effort into avoiding mistakes.

Either side can be toxic.  Enthusiasm is one step away from false confidence, and that is a stupid way to die with a penchant for horrible last words, like, "Here, hold my beer.  This is gonna be fun."  But fear of failure leads to a paralysis, sometimes from overthinking.  Sometimes from learned helplessness.

I'm of course thinking of martial arts.  The perfectionists overtly try to avoid mistakes, seeking a visible perfection.  'Form.'  And these often divorce form from use.  So things can look perfect and not work.  And I wonder sometimes if the tendency of the perfectionists to avoid rough and tumble testing is just an extension of the fear of making mistakes.  You don't have to count the mistakes you don't know about, right?  And there is a potentially toxic teaching style with this.  If you point out every flaw, if nothing can ever be good or good enough, the student conditions at a very deep level that the safest strategy is to do nothing.  Be passive.  Never take risks.  This is 'learned helplessness' and it is an important aspect of training someone to be a victim.

The other way may have no standards at all.  Do your own thing.  And to an extent, I support that. LLR and I are different sizes, genders and have different training backgrounds and life experiences.  It would be stupid to assume that we would fight the same.  But 'do your own thing' without a goal and a test for effectiveness is self-absorbed, pointless masturbation.  And people have a tendency to get self-righteous about this kind of thing. Especially when it is untested.

(This is an aside, since I'm thinking about the questions not the answers... but here's my answer.  Do your own thing BUT constantly get better, by working the physics and studying the problem and the context and use an outside source to test if the improvements are really happening.)

Even at the best, though, the positive/active side of this tends to be sloppy.  They can almost always use a tweak in their body mechanics.

Are these personality types?  Inherent to certain systems?  I know learned helplessness can be created through poor teaching; as can ridiculous overestimation of abilities.

Trying to do it right versus trying to avoid doing it wrong.  Huge difference.

3 comments:

Josh K. said...

Does form follow function or function follow form?

What is the goal/reason for doing this? Stated & is that the real reason/goal?

Who get's to determine what "well" means and what a "mistake" is; a teacher/expert/boss (external), you (internal) or a combination of both?

Perception, how you are looking at the situation is how we frame our questions. How we frame our questions, can limit or lead us to an answer. Take the question, Is the glass half emty or half full, implies one of two choices is correct.

Edward de Bone, "Six Thinking Hats" would describe thinking positively or looking for the positive as thinking with your "Yellow Hat" on and thinking negatively or looking for the negative as thinking with your "Black Hat" on. A "Green Hat" (creative/lateral) thinker might ask, "Is the glass the right sizes?" It must must be said, all hats have their place and can be taken on or off.

Are mistakes necessarily negative? Some of lifes greatest inventions were mistakes that someone turned to a positive. Is doing well with a negative outcome really doing well? Perception.

What is the goal of... depending on out look/perception can be answered many ways.

Hmmm...,
Josh

Josh K. said...

Corection:

Edward de Bono

Michael said...

"And I wonder sometimes if the tendency of the perfectionists to avoid rough and tumble testing is just an extension of the fear of making mistakes. You don't have to count the mistakes you don't know about, right? And there is a potentially toxic teaching style with this. If you point out every flaw, if nothing can ever be good or good enough, the student conditions at a very deep level that the safest strategy is to do nothing."

Shiiiiiiit.

I think that this can be true even without a concern for perfection of form. Can apply to anything where you're trying to "do it right" or replicate exactly what you were taught to do.

Semi-beered lightbulb moment for me. Good summary of the issue. Thanks.