Monday, November 13, 2017

goalposts, affordances, power and other things humans fuck up

I don't know if it's possible for a band of primates to change at this deep of a level, but I can't help but wonder at the skewed affordances within tribes of people who purport to laud powerful people.

The Story.
A group of people consistently give a petite female the same feedback over a 2 year period of time - the feedback designed to help her improve at a specific skill, or characteristic - that feedback is being offered as encouragement and a means by which to measure progress.

Over the two years, various people give her observations that amount to 'you're improving - and you have more room to grow in this particular expression of power - but you are definitely improving. Keep it up.'

So she does. She diligently works at it. She finds new ways to push past her own mental glitches that hold her back in this specific expression of power and personal authority. It doesn't come easily but she is undaunted. Frustrated at times, but undaunted.

Then it happens. She shows up at an event where these skills are not only encouraged but also measured. Someone with a great deal of authority, a person who is involved in the assessment process that applies the metrics tells her she is "too _______________".

She is too effective now in the skill she has been coached to improve upon for two years. One of the attributes that has not come naturally for her, that she has had to press against the edges of her own mental envelope repeatedly, that skill she was improving in but "not quite there yet" even six months ago.

And now - no, no, need to back this off - you are demonstrating too much of this particular characteristic symbolizing power, never mind that we've been telling you for two years you weren't expressing enough -

The message is clear. Grow, get better, be strong - but not too strong - too much strength will be punished.

Most of us would have our cake and eat it too, if we could. I get that. Wanting a thing and actually being able to have it though, not always reality. I can want to live close to conveniences and live miles away from the closest human but until I learn to teleport- it's not gonna' happen. If you coach people to express power - guess what? Some of them are going to get it and they are going to become more powerful. If you don't want it (the collective tribal 'you') - don't coach for it.

If you coach people to become powerful and you admonish them for doing just the thing you coach - what exactly are you trying to communicate? Here's an unpleasant thought. One of the effective tools in victim grooming is to destabilize the Target's ability to understand (and predict) expectations. If you want to effectively abuse a dog - train him to sit on command and then punish him for it. Repeatedly.

When a tribe commits to developing powerful people and then punishes people for expressing the specific type of power they have been encouraged to develop, this looks and feels an awful lot like victim grooming. And in the martial arts profession I'm wondering if this may be one of the deepest transgressions possible.

note and afterthoughts to the above: I left the specifics vague and went for the meta level because that's really what's important. If I tell a student to get better at ANY skill in a martial art, I am encouraging an increase in power. It doesn't matter what the skill is.  And because we have mostly been raised up in societies with fucked up relationships to power, this type of victim grooming is going to happen at a pretty unconscious level. It's not a blame-thing. Mostly. I'm wrestling with that. Part of me is incredulous and wants to lash out with righteous can you not see this? And that very part of me that wants to do the righteous lashing is the tribal monkey me which means, there's gonna' be some logic missing. Hence, I am wrestling with it here.

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