Friday, 11 November 2016

"Cannot Teach"

There is a life skill that I am desperate to learn.

The funny thing is that it cannot be learnt.

My dad calls it - and I like this name because it describes the concept perfectly - "Cannot Teach"

I find this phrase hilarious for two reasons.

First, the name already implies defeat. The name is telling you that the problem is difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. It cannot be taught.

Second, I have spent my whole childhood growing up hearing this phrase from my dad to the extent that I have seen it applied to all kinds of situations. I don't grow tired of hearing it because it is quite a versatile concept.

So, what exactly is "Cannot Teach"?

I don't want to offer a definition of "Cannot Teach" just yet. I want to give two examples.


1: The overthinking striker

Have you ever watched a match of football ('soccer') and seen a striker one-on-one with the goalkeeper, only for the striker to be stunned by the enormity of the moment?

It's a brain freeze.

He hesitates ever so slightly for that split second -----perhaps he's thinking about how good an opportunity this is, how he will never ever ever get this chance again or how his team desperately needs him to score this goal ------ causing him to lose the opportunity to slot it home past the keeper. When he realises his mistake, it is too late: he has hit it directly into the goalkeeper or hit it out.


2: The hesitant answer

As another example, I am sure we have also come across a situation in a social context where we have seen someone (or we are that person!) being asked a question but they don't know how to respond immediately and succinctly to it, causing them to stumble along searching for the 'right' or 'acceptable' answer while furiously trying to cover up their embarrassment.

This arises because the question being asked is, given the answerer's level of life experience or lack of preparation/exposure, so unexpected that they don't know how to respond. It's the first time they've been asked and they haven't quite manufactured their perfect response yet! (Also think: first time job interviews)


We have all experienced "Cannot Teach"

So you probably already have an idea of what "Cannot Teach" is. Actually I have probably insulted your intelligence. I apologise. The concept is very likely something that you would have known about even before you read this post.

You probably would call it something different too.

Some might call it or link it to the concept of "Street Smarts", "Common sense", "Killer instinct", "Intuition" and a host of other perfectly acceptable names.


My understanding of "Cannot Teach"


If I could describe my understanding of "Cannot Teach", I would say that it is a phrase that, at least in part, pretty much describes that moment when a person is put into a completely new life experience or situation and they are responding for the first time.

It's the first time they have been put in this situation so no one knows how they will respond.

If your response is bad, usually you learn from your mistake (this is how we learn in life).

However some of us, myself included, never learn, either because:

1. We are never exposed to the situation enough;

2. We don't try hard enough to change; or

3. That's just the way we are (this last reason is a bit dangerous though when used as an excuse, but sometimes can be true).

So "Cannot Teach" does not necessarily apply to a first-time situation; indeed it can repeat forever if we keep making the same mistakes.


How do we avoid repeat cases of failing a "Cannot Teach" situation?

This is an ambitious question that cannot be answered.

It's arguably pretty impossible really. For starters you need to know you made a mistake. Not all of us realise when we say or do something wrong. You perhaps need a good friend who is willing to be honest with you - willing to tell you when you stuffed up, in an encouraging way.

And even when we realise it's wrong, we sometimes can't programme ourselves to change.

Continuous exposure to a situation does not necessarily elicit change in us. I mean, back to the sports example above, there are countless strikers in football who keep missing big chances and big moments so much so that it becomes a BAD HABIT.

The same thing applies in real life. If we keep doing the SAME THING in response to a situation, it becomes a BAD HABIT.

We want "Cannot Teach" to produce a positive change in us - we want a GOOD HABIT.
We do not want "Cannot Teach" to become a BAD HABIT, because then it becomes nigh-impossible to defeat.

So in that sense, perhaps continuous exposure to a situation may not be ideal if you know your response will be the same. Perhaps controlled exposure to a situation, with the right intent to change, and the right support group, is required.

I don't know.

It's not like I know what I am doing either. I have plenty of bad habits.

Andre Lim


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