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"You can't do that, it's too..."  RSS feed

 
r ranson
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There is a pattern of behaviour I see time and time again.  I don't even know if the people who do it realize how damaging it can be.  I actually think that most people do it because they feel it is helpful.  Sometimes it even is helpful.  But most of the time I think it isn't.  It's most obvious on the internet, but I've seen it many times in real life as well.  I almost never see it here on permies.com, which is why I stick around.  I think many people here have been on the receiving end, that's why we try not to engage in that kind of behaviour.

I call it "Bullying by good intentions".  It begins with someone discovering some new idea they want to try. They mention it or ask for advice, and the second person tells them "You can't do that, it's too... hard/difficult/dangerous/much work/ or something along those lines"

For example.

Person 1.  Wow, this is so great, my aunt is letting me have a bit of her garden and I want to grow squash.  Do you think I can grow squash from seeds I saved from a grocery store squash?  If I can, I want to always save my own seeds from the best squash and then I never have to pay money for squash seeds, ever!  Isn't that cool?
Person 2.  What you want to grow squash for?  Don't you have supermarkets where you live?
Person 3.  Growing squash is too much work.  You need loads of equipment and fertilizer and even then they will all get eaten by bugs.
Person 4.  Squash don't grow in your area, don't even bother trying. 
Person 5.  My brother's friend's cousin's girlfriend's uncle's neighbour's friend met someone on a bus once who got sick and almost died because of squash poisoning.  This comes from saving your own squash seeds.  You should never save seeds from squash if you don't want to die.*

Okay, so it's not a good example, but I think you can see the kind of behaviour I am getting at.  Person 1 is discouraged and in all likelihood will never plant a seed, never garden, maybe never eat fresh squash again. Not only that, lurkers reading that conversation will also feel discouraged (On a forum, there are often hundreds or thousands of people reading for every single person posting).  Person 1 might believe what they are told and they will pass on this information to their friends who won't garden... it snowballs really fast.


My theory is that there are two reasons a person would say something like this.

  • they honestly are trying to help and they are conveying the information they believe to be true
  • they have an ulterior motive for discouraging people from trying new things



  • The first is done with purely good intentions.  I know, I've caught myself doing it from time to time.  This first motive can be broken down into two sub catigories:

  • people who have tried it and found it didn't work
  • people who haven't tried it and are just parroting the party line


  • The latter, I have no patience with.  If one hasn't done it, how do they know that cotton is too dangerious to work with?  Because they believe what they have been told?  More likely because they have been told what it is like in one situation and they generalize those conditions to every situation.  This assumption becomes belief and this belief becomes their advice which is not to try this new thing.  

    Okay, I admit, there are some things that one doesn't have to do first hand to know they are dangerous.  Jumping off a building, drinking a gallon of pesticide, &c.  What I'm talking about here are things that have been done safely in the past and can be done again.  Even these dangerous things can be cautioned against in a way that is helpful rather than harmful, but that's a topic for another thread which I hope to start later: "how to suggest it's a bad idea in a positive way"

    The problem is, this is really easy to do and human brains naturally seem to follow this path.  This situation where people are honestly trying to help by giving advice about things they haven't tried and how difficult they are can cause a lot of damage.  I choose to believe that these people are not saying this with the intention of causing damage.  I choose to believe that they are honestly trying to help.  So how do we help them be more helpful? 

    As for the people who tried something and it didn't work, therefore it will not work for anyone, and they tell us this loudly and often to prevent people making the same mistakes as they did.... Is there a way to suggest that what might not have worked for them may not be the fault of the activity?  Maybe their hugelkultur didn't work because they live in a climate that isn't favourable to this kind of garden.  It's not their fault, it's not hugelkultur's fault.  Maybe they don't need to go around yelling at the top of their lungs how bad hugelkultur is?  I choose to believe that these people are trying to be helpful.  So how do we help them be more helpful? 



    I'm a pattern noticer.  Sometimes I see certain phrases or ideas surge to the front of the public mind.  Sometimes I watch where these ideas being.  Sometimes that's on social media.  Often the 'different people' who start to spread these ideas have identical, for lack of a better word, 'diction'.  They have the same speech/typing pattern as if these different people are actually the same one or two people.  Sometimes I wonder if this kind of discouragement is intentional, like the recent surge in all the supposed 'dangers' of saving one's own seeds over the last month.  This leads me to feel that this person(s) have an ulterior motive for discouraging people from trying new things.

    Most of all, I want to know how to identify when these ideas are fed into the public mind deliberately and what we can do to combat them.




    Before anyone jumps on me: there are some things that are, in my mind, acceptable to discourage: drinking pesticides, jumping off buildings, metal in a rocket stove core.  I'm hoping we can talk about ways of advising against bad ideas in an encouraging way in another thread. This thread, I would like to be about Bullying by Good Intentions and what we can do to reduce the damage this does.


    *it is a thing but it is extremely unlikely (If memory serves: 4 people got slightly ill by squash poisoning in 2004, that same year in the US, over 300 people got struck by lightning).
     
    Todd Parr
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    One I dislike very much, and it is more prevalent here than at most forums:  A person will ask a question, most often something like "How do I get rid of xxxxx?" and half or more of the posters will answer with something like "Why would you want to get rid of xxxx?"  The reason it is more prevalent here is of course because this is a permaculture forum, and that brings an entirely different way of looking at things.  People are taught that "the problem is the solution" and that we need to figure out how to work with these things, rather than to immediately get rid of them.  I think that is a great thing.  I also think that, in keeping with Paul's idea that everyone here is perfect, it would be nice if everyone acknowledged that the original poster is a perfect person and has already exhausted the other possibilities before asking for help in getting rid of something, or changing something, or whatever the case may be.  It's frustrating to ask something like "Anyone know how to get rid of the quack grass that is over-running everything in my food forest?" and have 20 or 30 people answer something like "Why would you get rid of it?  You need to learn to live with it" or the like.  As you mentioned, I think those people are trying to be helpful, but I find that those answers rarely are, and it is much more helpful if people answer that have had experience with that problem, and can tell you what worked, or didn't work, for them.

    To summarize this and hopefully clarify, I think it's more helpful to answer a person's question than to tell them why what they are trying to do is wrong.
     
    Tyler Ludens
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    Todd Parr wrote:" You need to learn to live with it"


    To me that would be a reportable post, since the poster is telling the other person what they should do, even though they don't literally use the word "should" in this case the word "need" means "should."

     
    Dan Boone
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    Todd Parr wrote:One I dislike very much, and it is more prevalent here than at most forums:  A person will ask a question, most often something like "How do I get rid of xxxxx?" and half or more of the posters will answer with something like "Why would you want to get rid of xxxx?"  The reason it is more prevalent here is of course because this is a permaculture forum, and that brings an entirely different way of looking at things.  People are taught that "the problem is the solution" and that we need to figure out how to work with these things, rather than to immediately get rid of them.  I think that is a great thing.  I also think that, in keeping with Paul's idea that everyone here is perfect, it would be nice if everyone acknowledged that the original poster is a perfect person and has already exhausted the other possibilities before asking for help in getting rid of something, or changing something, or whatever the case may be.
    \

    In another thread I described the tendency you are talking about here at Permies like this:

    In The Fellowship Of The Ring Frodo famously says "Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes." Our local version of this ought to be "go not to permies.com for advice on how to do a thing, for they will tell you at length how to do something else entirely."

    I'm afraid it's the permies.com superpower. That hard thing you want to do? People imbued with permaculture thinking are much more likely to have some clever scheme for doing an easier thing instead, or possibly even for doing nothing and calling it "more sustainable". I've been on the receiving end of this enough times to know how infuriating it can be, and yet it really is the permaculture way.


    Honestly I try to go both ways -- I'll post a bit about whatever I'd do instead of the hard thing and why I would duck the hard thing, but then I'll say "but if you really need to do that hard thing, the only idea I have is..." and then try to find something helpful to suggest.

     
    Dan Boone
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    Tyler Ludens wrote:
    Todd Parr wrote:" You need to learn to live with it"


    To me that would be a reportable post, since the poster is telling the other person what they should do, even though they don't literally use the word "should" in this case the word "need" means "should."


    You're right of course, but I think Todd was paraphrasing for simplicity.  The Permies-correct and non-reportable way to say that is to say "If I were in your shoes, I think I might first consider not doing that, but maybe doing this other thing entirely, because blah blah blah."  It's just as infuriating (having had it done to me plenty of times) but it takes the focus completely off the other person, is being nice, is leaving room for the other person to be right, and all that. 

    I guess the point I'm trying to make is that the problem Todd describes is real and happens plenty of times and ways that are perfectly compatible with Permies.com rules.  I don't think we'd want to change that, since -- often enough -- even perfect people get focused on their first idea and may benefit from a bit of gentle and non-judgmental inquiry into alternative ways to advance whatever project agenda they are currently struggling with.
     
    Tyler Ludens
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    Yeah, I guess if I was wanting to do something that was stupid, wasteful, or hard, I might want people to tell me some alternatives, since I can easily get stuck in a mental rut and not see alternatives that might be right in front of my face.

    I might be one of those guilty of "don't do that" because my usual response when I see someone trying to get rid of something it is to look up to see if said thing is edible, and then my answer to how to get rid of it is "You can eat it!"

     
    Dan Boone
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    Tyler Ludens wrote:My usual response when I see someone trying to get rid of something it is to look up to see if said thing is edible, and then my answer to how to get rid of it is "You can eat it!"
      ♥ ♥ ♥

    (I'm a big eating enthusiast from WAY back...)
     
    Deb Stephens
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    I grew up hearing "you can't do that" and variations like "it just isn't done ..." My response? Oh yeah, just watch me! I always did hate being told what to do (or what NOT to do).

    I tend to say things like "you may want to rethink that ..." and then give a few reasons, or if it looks safe enough, just go with "it can't hurt to try ..." rather than merely going negative on someone's idea.
     
    r ranson
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    I hope you don't mind.  I used your dandelion example for my thread about gentle ways to say it's a bad idea.

     
    When it is used for evil, then watch out! When it is used for good, then things are much nicer. Like this tiny ad:
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