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Things that require zero talent

In the same vein as my recent articles, I want to comment on a meme I've seen shared numerous times: Things that require zero talent It chastises those who think people with talent have talent.

In case you can't read the image because you're using a screen-reader, the image says:

Things that require zero talent

  1. Being On Time
  2. Work Ethic
  3. Effort
  4. Body Language
  5. Energy
  6. Attitude
  7. Passion
  8. Being Coachable
  9. Doing Extra
  10. Being Prepared

How can I object to the list? Aren't all these things achievable? You might not have natural talent in trumpeting, or artistry, or mechanics, or auto-repair, but if you put a lot of effort in you can still do it and get better! Inspirational, right!

My objection is two-fold.

One, every time I saw it shared, it was meant to be more shaming than inspirational. The people sharing it always had a jab in there against welfare or the unemployed or the homeless or Bernie Sanders supporters. Basically (and sometimes explicitly), they're saying "Stop making excuses and stop being lazy!" and "If you haven't succeeded it's your fault!"

It's not inspirational, it's a shame tactic.

Two, there are many reasons why people might have a hard time with those items. Reasons that the author of the list probably didn't have to face.

If you're a single parent you might be late quite a bit. You might not have much energy and you might be fresh out of work ethic. If you're poor and don't have a car, "doing extra" and "being on time" are a lot harder. They're not impossible, of course, just harder than a person without those conditions, and a poor single parent getting lectured by a not-poor childless person on the importance of "Effort" is kinda insulting.

I'm sure they're are plenty of people who would say "well I was poor and I worked 16 hours a day at the meat packing plant while I worked my way through a GED!" Yep, then you should know how hard it is to do that. Just think about how much harder it would have been if you had just one more thing in your way: no one to watch your kid, or a sick grandma who needed taking care of hours a day, or had your apartment broken into every month, or any number of things.


Besides, in a way, every one of those items on the list is a talent.

Let me introduce you to a concept named "ableism". Like sexism and racism, ableism is a form of (often unconscious) prejudice, but a little different. With ableism, the ableist either dismisses people with disabilities, or doesn't even think about them at all. This can have big negative consequences for people.

There are obvious manifestations like lack of a wheelchair ramp at an important government office, or having no way for a blind person to read your documentation, etc. These oversights happen because the designers are able-bodied people and never even had to think about it. I know blind and handicapped people have succeeded in lots of fields, but I bet it took a lot more work than the average person had to put into it.

But there are subtler manifestations, too. There are people out there who, because of a physical condition or mental illness, will have a much harder time than a person without those issues would with the items on the list above. People with chronic diseases, or ongoing medical treatments.

Someone with lupus or cancer might lack "Energy". Someone who is autistic might have a much harder time with "Body Language" and "Being Coachable" than others. Someone with ADHD will have a harder time than you with "Being On Time" and "Being Prepared". Someone with clinical depression is going to suffer on all the points.

Again, it's not impossible to overcome any of these, and may do every day, but congratulating yourself for your own success while assuming everyone who didn't succeed lacked "work ethic" or some shit is ridiculous.

"I don't mean them! I mean the lazy fucks who always complain about how hard it is to do things that are easy for me!" Yup.


Of course, none of this means people shouldn't try. But maybe, just maybe, it's all a lot more complicated than you think.

2016-11-12

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