We’ve all had the experience of being completely and utterly bewildered. Then along comes someone who, in the blink of an eye, sorts things out. To compound our ‘misery’, they proceed to explain what they did in language we can barely understand – ‘the problem was that the hotchclocker wasn’t interfacing sequentially with the floudleflap, so I’ve reglunted the squizzlepepple to offset the gain in the off-centre centrifudge. Got it?’
Absolutely, with both hands. Clear as a bell. We just weren’t familiar with it. Does this sound familiar?
If you search for ‘Familiarity’ on Wikipedia, you are automatically re-directed to the entry on ‘Intimate Relationship’. ‘tis nobler will not enquire whether you are familiar with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; if you are, how do you find the time? But this post is about another aspect of familiarity – its breeding capacity.
Familiarity breeds contempt, a shorthand way of describing the expertise bias. When I am able to do something, I find it difficult to understand why you, as a berginner, can’t do it. I compare your ‘now performance’ with the ‘now me’ rather than compare it to the ‘beginner me’. I can’t imagine how the ‘beginner you’ can be so hopeless. After all, I have done this many, many times and it is so easy to do. What is wrong with you?
In ‘Overpowering’, ‘tis nobler wrote:
In learning situations, you shouldn’t necessarily attribute the behaviour of others to their character but rather to the way they are dealing with their circumstances. Context trumps character, specific, short-term needs override general, longer-term orientations. It is possible for situations to turn saints into sinners and sinners into saints; between these extremes is the fuzziness of life. To learn about situations, place more emphasis on understanding the action rather than passing judgement on the actors.
But the expertise bias operates the other way – I’ll explain your behaviour on the basis of who you are simply because what you do is, for me, so easy that your performance can’t hold the explanation. I find it so easy to walk in a straight line that I can’t imagine you being unable to do so. Yet, when your inexperience imposes a ‘blindfold’, look what happens:
Unfortunately, familiarity can breed contempt, contempt for others. Effort will remove the ‘blindfolds’ that are inescapable for novice performers; squashing this effort through unfair criticism or inadequate explanation is inexcusable. Everybody begins at the beginning!