“WHY do you always have to learn everything the HARD way instead of LISTENING to others? WHY do you have to do it yourself?”

My mother was ANGRY.

So was I. But she was completely right: My life is a study in DIY/LFE – Learning from Experience vs. Learning from Elders.

My 60s-bred dad taught me to Question Authority.

I tend to Question Everything.

Case in point: Thimbles. They exist for a reason. I discovered this, not by trusting the wisdom of the ages and wearing one before embarking on a sewing project that involved thick brocade, but by going footloose and thumb free.

I ended up with a broken piece of needle imbedded beneath my thumbnail. I ended up in the dr office for an extraction that ouch, yuck, ai yi yi, ooh, will cause me to testify to the masses: YES, thimbles, use them! I heartily advocate thimbles! I’m a thimble fan!

Meanwhile, my mother rolls her eyes in exasperation. “DUH,” she would say, if she were me.

Now, this is just one example of me just foregoing the Usual Procedures of Things, ignoring Conventional Wisdom, because I don’t see the obvious need. I’m suspicious that society has unnecessary habits. I get annoyed when people follow the rules blindly without understanding why…

Other instances involve not wearing underwear, not checking the oil in my car, art projects (some successful, some not), and other large-life things where my attitude was, Heck, I can do this my way; it can’t be that hard; why not?

This attitude is exactly what makes me excellent at analyzing processes at work and streamlining them – finding better, faster, quicker ways to do a job, because I question the current procedure in ways others just wouldn’t, because they go along with This is The Way It’s Done and Always Has Been Done. I have been valued for this capacity for critical judgment. I honed it doing critical theory papers in college and grad school.

What hurt when my mother yelled at me was that I don’t do this on purpose – it’s like there’s some instinctual Try it Yourself and Prove it Right/Wrong instinct in me that sends me riding bareback over the plains of experience – sometimes toward disaster; sometimes toward brilliance.

Of course, for my mother, her role is to protect me – not to let me test the Fire is Hot and Burns rule by searing my flesh over the stove, but to teach me to listen and to trust her to avoid that kind of pain. Obviously, somewhere along the line, as happens with all kids, I think, I discovered that one of mother’s rules or laws wasn’t as true as she had advertised.

So then I had to question everything she said.

Some things were very true. Some not. And how else to know but to test them? Good old trial and error?

But of course, this can take a lot more time and pain that necessary. We read history in order not to repeat it.

So when exactly should I test authority, and when should I trust it?

How do I decide and discern?


2 Responses to DIY? LFE vs. LFE

  1. Mrbeth says:

    In my experience, “Other Ways” of doing things (some with authority, some not) are great when you need something else to make the decisions, to be in charge. When you’re too tired, too scared, or just don’t feel like figuring out “what you want”- do what your mom/that book/dr. phil/the president says is the right thing. I think this is actually a great “back-up” tool for weary-worn times, a real boon to structures and authorities etc. is that they can hold you in place for a bit. You always have something to fall back on. I know this sounds so trivializing, but what I am trying to capture is the value of someone telling you what to do sometimes. It can be comforting, it can get you off the hook for making certain decisions for a while.

    Unfortunately, my relying on authority usually signals that self doubt has crept in. But, like Life, and Shit, it happens. (am I allowed to cuss here?) Trusting and blindly following authority got me through many years of piss-poor self esteem.

    Also in my experience, when I start to feel stronger, when my self is sturdy, sure, clear, I begin to think more creatively, which involves not necessarily trusting authority, or following the grooves. Interestingly, this does not mean that my instincts keep me from doing really foolish or self-endangering things! But, those outcomes just don’t bother me so much – because I feel able to make mistakes. The two – questioning (or ignoring) authority and feeling confident – seem to go hand in hand for me.

    When I look at my daughter wanting to try dangerous things all of the time, I try to breathe a bit of this freedom into myself. From your mom’s perspective, life preservation may be the heart of it. I know it is for me. I’m afraid they will die. I must keep them alive. I, however, have to face this possibility, and allow the joy of experimentation, play, mistakes, accidents, boo boos, to take precedence.

    So, to answer your questions: Follow authority when you need it to be in charge. Ignore it when you’re feeling strong. Trust it if you have ignored it and come to the same conclusion on your own.

  2. Maiaoming says:

    Oh, right – I forgot about the “freedom to make mistakes” part – that’s something else I argued with my mother the night this all came up – the idea that making mistakes was how I learned – that I needed to be able to – and I have done plenty…

    But of course I totally understand, now that I am a parent, how my mother feels about that.

    But it’s why I tend to have a “let’s see what happens” approach to my daughter’s hijinks – I’m curious to see if she can do it, for her to test her body and her instincts, and the result is that she is totally steady on her feet, really confident when it comes to her body (climbing, etc.). So I’m proud of that. I feel like she’s good at avoiding really bad spills in a way because I’ve let her spill… in little ways, maybe to avoid the bigger ones?

    Maybe if I had been allowed to make mistakes more as a kid, I would be better at self-judgment?

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