"The children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming, where everyone would be interdependent." - John Dewey, American educator

Accepting that you are inferior

If someone asks you why you got a low grade in something, do you tell them it's because you didn't care enough, or that you tried your best but just couldn't do better?
by Will

Until recently, I've never understood how people can accept that they've "tried their hardest," that they can't figure out something without help or that they are just bad at a particular topic. I think I know now though.

You get a low grade in something, and someone questions you about why. If you don't know why, you try to say so. If, instead, you know that it's because you didn't care enough and couldn't get yourself to work, you can't respond truthfully because such a response is unacceptable. Either way, you may try to say that you don't know, but the person asking will want a better explanation. (In the past I have often been asked whether I tried my hardest. I used to get really good grades, and I would always note that that is a stupid question because one can always try harder, but my father always wanted me to say that I did try my hardest.)

If you say it's because you didn't work hard enough, the person will tell you to work harder. If you say that you don't know, the person will keep asking you until you give him an answer or he'll just say you need to work harder. School values absolute devotion to one's schooling, so, if you just tell the person that you "did your best," that you tried hard but couldn't understand something, the person can't say that you should work harder. You did your best, and that's supposedly all that matters. We also have this bizarre concept of fairness: If we can't do something because we're stupid, we should not be expected to do it. If people yell at you whenever you don't do something perfectly, it's much easier to admit that you can only perform to a certain level, and as this response gradually becomes habit.

Of course, you're not actually inferior, and that's why lower-level classes don't work; the people in the lower-level classes are generally there because they aren't interested enough in the topic, not because they are innately stupid.

For most of us it's probably easiest to tell people that we try our hardest at our schoolwork even though we know we can try harder, but we must always pay attention to why we're saying this so we don't start believing it ourselves.

Written by: Will
5 May 2007

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