Yes, the typical. And, the exception.
Balancing the wisdom from past experiences with curiosity for new approaches to find the most effective path forward.
How often do you use words like “typically,” “usually,” or “normally”? It’s typically (see what I did there?) a way that we collect and use information we’ve gathered from our experiences so that we don’t have to re-learn everything about the world every time we walk outside our door in the morning. To sum it up, we generalize to understand.
For example, typically summertime in the Midwest is hot and humid, typically I'm tired if I don't get enough sleep, and typically those of us who grew up on a farm don't understand why others choose to live in the middle of a city. Understanding what is typically the case isn’t necessarily a problem. Where we often trip up is when we refuse to let go of that generalization when an exception presents itself.
I love spending time in the shop with my big brother, Paul. Paul is a farmer, an electrician, an economist, a philosopher, a mechanic... the list goes on. I've learned a lot from Paul, especially when he's wearing his metaphorical mechanic's hat; but, believe it or not, he’s taught me more about people than how to replace a transmission. One late night in the shop, my arm bent up through the front suspension of a Ford Ranger, we're circulating through our three favorite topics of conversation: politics, farming practices, and my relationship dilemmas (let's be real, the third one probably isn't in Paul's top three favorites, but he gives the best advice so I bring it up anyway). Amidst our conversation we're becoming increasingly frustrated with the pilot bushing that is absolutely determined to stay in the flywheel. The problem? Paul and I need it out of the flywheel to finish replacing the transmission. And, all his usual tricks aren't working.
How many times have we found ourselves stuck?
No, not necessarily replacing a transmission, but a time where things aren’t working how they typically work? Or when someone who we've made an assumption about doesn't live up to that assumption? Maybe our generalizations have worked so far, but we run into this place where we are forced to go in one of two directions: 1) continue to try the same thing that has typically worked before, or 2) recognize that "typically" doesn't mean "always" and try a different approach.
After struggling with the usual methods Paul knew that option #2 was most likely to get us somewhere, so we went from screwdriver and hammer to grease and a small length of pipe. It still took us a few more tries, but, soon enough, the bushing popped out of place. We're covered in grease, surrounded by a chaotic array of tools, but I let out a cheer of celebration. Few things frustrate me more than spending two hours on a job that should take two minutes.
Imagine if Paul had continued to believe the same thing—the typical—would work, even when it clearly wasn't effective in this case. Two hours could have turned into two days. Yet, let's not discount his first efforts; they'd worked, many times before. He wasn't incompetent for starting out with the tried-and-true method. Yet, he was wise to recognize when it wasn't the right approach anymore. This case was an exception to the typical. The wisdom here is not that we can’t use our prior experiences to understand how the world typically operates, but that we should never let our past experience cloud our ability to recognize when a new approach is needed.
It may be true that many introverts typically don't enjoy public speaking; that doesn't mean we'll never find one on a stage. It may be true that many FFA chapters found in cities typically have members who didn’t grow up on farms; that doesn't mean that there aren't students there who may want to start their own farms. It may be true that political opinions often fall on one side of the aisle or another based on where we grew up; that doesn't mean that every person we meet has the same politics as their neighborhood. Our human attempts to aggregate data from prior experiences can do us a service, but we can't rely on those alone. Paul and I learned that not every pilot bushing is going to react the same—this is true for people, too. Let's seek to approach each individual as just that: an individual, with a unique set of beliefs, traits, and ideas about the world.
How can we apply this in our daily lives? It can be something as simple as knowing that usually a great way to start a conversation with an FFA member is to ask about their Supervised Agricultural Experience project. Yet, we can say "yes, and..." by having a follow-up question if our new friend doesn't have an SAE project yet—perhaps what they enjoy most about ag class. Or, if we’re on Twitter and see someone’s political stance in one area, maybe we choose not to assume the rest of what they believe but instead start a real conversation with them to understand the nuances of their ideas.
We don't have to start over with a blank understanding of the world every time we walk outside our front door.
But, as soon as we start to let our understanding of the typical overcome our ability to recognize exceptions, we’ve taken the easy way out instead of seeking to effectively build relationships and serve the people we meet. Instead, let's seek to say "yes, and..." to understanding both the typical and the exception.
What’s one exception you wish more people understood about you? (You can think about it like this… “People that _______ like me typically __________, but I actually _____________.”) Let us know in the comments or on social media by tagging me and using the hashtags #EmbracingComplexity and #FFA21.
Curious to learn more about why I push for “yes, and…” in so many areas? Check out my intro post here.