Friday, September 6, 2019

Been There, Done That

Also as a little sidenote. Have you gone through the same process as the people you're modding (skinny to fit/big)? If so surely you would have some sort of respect for people doing it and not just walk around calling everyone skeletons, trying to destroy their self-esteem.
 - A sobbing weenie, to WeaponizedSleep
Deakins: You know, Hale, I considered bringing you in on this. You know why I didn't?
Hale: Because I would have said "no"?
Deakins: Nah, if you'd said "no" I'd have just killed you; I was afraid that you were going to say "yes". 'Cause you don't have the balls to follow through with something like this, we both know that.'
- Broken Arrow, 1996*

I like to think of this blog as a brain toilet, in that most of what ends up here is the barely controlled expulsion of thoughts about something that's gotten stuck in my craw in much the same way as one might expel vomit when one has had too much to drink. In this case it is closer to having an immediate violent reaction to eating a bad sandwich, smelling moldy milk, or feeling the squish of the dog shit your asshole roommate has left all over the yard. I read a thing and something bubbled up in me rapidly, and I don't want to spend the weekend thinking about it.

There are people who come to internet forums convinced that they have a problem that is unique in such a way as to require an equally unique, personal human touch in order to solve it. They believe that their problem is too unique, their situation too complex, to get answers from, say, an FAQ page or searching for past posts that are similar. They are rarely in touch with reality.

There is a philosophy that I developed through my career as a software engineer which has spread to much of the rest of my life which can be put very simply - I will never be the first person to do anything. Anything that I will try to do, someone else has done before me. Any problem that I may have, someone else has also had, and solved. Thinking this way has served me very well in keeping a proper perspective about everything I set out to accomplish. I feel more people should embrace this mindset and all that it implies - including and especially the part where it means that you are not as unique as you want to believe yourself to be - especially in an age where decades worth of people talking about their problems is available in the palm of your hand, even while taking a dump.

The sentiment in the quote above is one that comes up often when some kinds of people, believing they are more unique than they are, run head first into the brick wall of being told that the only person to whom they are Mommy's Special Little Guy is their mother, at the age of four. It is an irredeemably whiny accusation that sounds the same in my ears as the noises my toddler makes when I turn off Sesame Street in the middle of Cookie Monster - "The only possible reason you don't have sympathy for me and my special problem is that you've never been where I am right now." This sad, whimpering finger-pointing is particularly popular with perpetually frustrated skinny dudes who view putting more food into their food hole much as a crippled man might view Mount Everest.

For everyone I know who routinely is a target for this accusation, it misses the mark so completely that the walking Halloween decoration slinging it would likely miss water if they fell out of a fucking boat.

I'm going to be an old man for a moment. Pull up a chair, reach into my front pocket, grab a Werther's Original, and have a listen.

When I was in college, I ended up with a roommate that sounds like the kind of person that is totally made up because nobody is actually like this. But Terry (not his real name) was somehow real anyway. Terry was really, really into bodybuilding and also one of the nicest, most helpful and humble guys I've ever known. At that time I was around 120lbs at 5'10, and desperately didn't want to be. Terry gave me a workout plan he thought would be good for me, helped me learn how to do a couple of lifts I couldn't figure out on my own, and told me "If you wanna get big, you gotta eat big".

I walked in on Terry giving himself an injection that I assumed was steroids a couple of times. I had this in the back of my mind for every month after the first that I had trouble gaining weight and making progress. After five or six months of mostly going nowhere, gaining only a couple of pounds, I worked up the courage to get past my embarrassment of failure and begged Terry to help me get started with steroids so I could get big, because I just couldn't get big. I told him I thought I had a fast metabolism, something my mother had always said about me. He laughed at me. He told me the same thing I now tell every skinny dude who claims they have a fast metabolism - I clearly wasn't eating enough. I protested that I was eating as much as I could.

It was this moment that was a turning point for me. I will never forget the way that Terry said, "I'll prove you're full of shit, Spengler. Peanut butter or milk - pick one." I chose peanut butter. He told me that for the next three months, I was to eat exactly as I had been, except also eat a quarter jar of peanut butter in front of him every day that he saw me, and I was not allowed to weigh myself. If I didn't gain weight, he'd hook me up.

I was determined to prove Terry wrong, that he was being an asshole, and get the fast track to being shredded. It was hard and miserable at first, but I got used to it over time. And at the end of three months, I had gained almost 20 lbs, and it was not Terry who was the asshole but me.

I will always be grateful for that experience, because it showed me that I hadn't really been trying, no matter what I had told myself. It formed the foundation of how I approach pursuing my fitness goals - forcing myself to do things that I know I need to do even (especially) when they're hard. Not making excuses. Always looking first to myself, my actions, my mindset as the source of a failure to achieve. In the humble opinion of one ultimately random anonymous mouthpiece, this is the way a person - an adult - should behave.

All that is a very long winded way of saying - "Nah."

It's not because any of us haven't been there that we don't have respect for people who caterwaul all over the digital universe about how hard things are and how they can't do them and why won't anybody just give them sympathy and support. It's because we have been there and therefore we know, from our own experience, that the only thing these people are missing most of the time is a backbone and the will to force themselves forward no matter what it takes.

And that's what it's all about. It is not the people who don't know your "struggle", but the people with direct experience, who have been there, who least want to hear you bleat endlessly about how tough it is. Because, having been there, they know that all that bitch-squeaking is just an excuse, a deflection, a smoke screen so that you don't have to look yourself in the soul and see that the only reason you haven't succeeded is that you haven't mustered the balls to go through with what's needed. Blaming a lack of external support, sympathy, compassion for a failure to succeed is the act of a coward. And for many of the experienced, accomplished people that don't have the patience for caterwauling, all of this can be said just as much to the person that they used to be as it can be said to you.

I know that there are people out there for whom all this is preaching to the choir. I also know that there are people out there who might categorize what I've written here as "macho bullshit" or "toxic masculinity" or "being a jock meathead asshole". It is to the latter that, in closing, I say this:

  • Deliberate fragility is neither virtuous nor defensible, and it should be discouraged - not spread.
  • Strength, determination, backbone, and grit are important traits for all people to cultivate in themselves and encourage in others.
  • Some ways of thinking, acting, and being are so shameful that the only thing they deserve is vigorous disparagement, and the only thing those who cling to them deserve is to be ostracized until they change.
  • Having the kind of pride that it takes to see yourself as a problem, and try to be different, is a goal worth aspiring to.
  • It is more useful to treat obstacles as a challenge than it is to treat them as a threat.
  • Fuck you.

*Inclusion of this quote not to be taken as an endorsement for stealing nuclear weapons.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

On Trying

"Try trying" is a phrase you may have heard.

There is a small but nevertheless determined group of people who can only be described with the action of rolling one's eyes that has decided this phrase is a circlejerk, and that the best way to defeat something you see as a circlejerk is to become a circlejerk yourself. Sure.

There is a refrain that comes from these people, which they seem to believe is the Yugioh card that instantly wins and makes them right and then everybody bangs them or whatever. Can you guess what it is?

That's right, constant reader. The anti-try-tryers are righteous and you are not, because they are on the side of the most noble of causes - helping. Should you tell some poor, defenseless novice to "try trying", you will be blown away when they dispel your illusions and reveal to you that you are not being helpful and are therefore the Bad Guy. The Villain. Hitler himself, risen from his tomb.

But come close and listen closer, O Ye Pure, O Ye Crusaders of Helping. There is a secret, long hidden, which I have found buried on a tablet of ancient gold, that I must reveal to you. Are you ready?

That's the fucking point.

The purpose of saying "try trying" is not to be helpful. It is to be dismissive. One may as well criticize water for being wet. And in most cases I've seen, that purpose is righteous, because the only thing that the person on the receiving end has actually been trying is "everybody else's patience".

Simply asking for help does not mean that a person should be helped, or should be given the specific kind of help that they've asked for. Contrary to what you may believe, achieving your goals is not a basic human right. Contrary to what a teacher probably once told you in grade school, when it could still be true, in the adult world there are stupid questions. It is rarely enough to want and wonder. You have to try.

To understand this better, it is necessary to consider context. The important facets of this context are these:

  1. A person asking a stranger that they have no prior relationship or social contract with to spend their free time giving them help which is derived from their own invested time, experience, and sometimes money.
  2. An industry that is worth tens of billions of dollars revolves around the exchange of information, advice, and experience in the arena of fitness and fitness goals, and it is possible for a person's entire career (as well as, less likely, wealth) to be built on providing help, advice, and information to others in achieving their fitness goals.
  3. On internet forums, there is not only no offer of compensation to those that provide advice and help, but often a taking of offense at the concept of compensating anyone for advice and help, and sometimes not even an expression of gratitude.

First consider those three things as the foundation of our context. The next layer to build on top of that foundation is a simple, natural observation.

  • When #3 is the venue, a person in #1 is asking others to perform the same service that thousands of professionals get paid to perform, except without paying them anything.
This, friends, is rudeness and entitlement at its finest - setting the expectation of others to provide a service, equivalent in quality and personal attention to that of a normally paid professional, which is completely free of cost. There is at this moment a push at revolution in the world of creative works against "spec work" for very similar reasons - it is rude to ask everything and give nothing. Civil, polite social interaction is not all take and no give.

But, one Champion of Auto-fellatio might protest, if you don't like it, just ignore those people instead of being a dick.


Here's why you should take that reply and shovel it - The person from #1 can pay those who help them, easily, in another form of currency which is immune to inflation and is infinitely replenishable - a respect for their time. That is all that's really being asked of them, and all that it takes not to be a slimy, stinky leech. This costs them nothing, and the rudeness of not doing so should be answered in kind.

And no, inspiring feelings of altruism and the satisfaction of helping another human in need are not adequate replacement.

Let me draw a contrasting picture. Some of those who, doing battle against "try trying", in fancying themselves to have an "S" on their chest would say - "If your friend / family member asked you for advice, would you treat them so poorly?" And the answer is no, of course not, you fucking putz. They're my friends and family. It's not the same and you goddamn well know it.

I have had numerous friends and family members, seeing my success in various fitness goals, ask me for advice, and I have gladly offered all the advice I have to give. Not once have I ever had to say to any of them "try trying". Because they understand the value of what they are asking of me and meet me in the middle - they treat me and the time I give them with respect - and they never give me cause to tell them "try trying". When I say "These are good articles to read / videos to watch about your question", they make a good faith effort to consume that content, give it their full attention, attempt to parse it, and only ask questions that they've thought about a bit and tried to answer with what I've put in front of them. When they fail to achieve their goals, they put the effort into recognizing when it's because they didn't put honest effort into the advice I gave them, and don't waste my time saying that what I told them didn't work.

But the people to whom "try trying" is directed don't do that, because the faceless usernames on the internet are not friends, or family, or even people to them - they are a personal question and answer box. They want to receive everything and give nothing. "Try trying" is a rebuke for a person who, in the age of nearly unlimited and immediate access to information thanks to sites like Google or Wikipedia, demands that others be a human Google search results page. It is for a person who communicates by their low effort question, "I know articles about this exist, but I don't want to spend the time to read them. Read them for me and give me the bullet points." It is for a person who tries nothing, and flails that they are all out of ideas. It is for a person who, upon encountering the smallest amount of difficulty, always and only looks for ways to make it easier instead of trying harder. It is for a person who "wants to have a human conversation" about mundane, banal bullshit like what vegetables, mobile apps, and bicep exercises there are, broad questions that can be summed up as "How do I fitness", or topics that have been discussed a thousand times before and do not need to be discussed again. It is for a person who cannot get into working out unless they have an app to tell them everything. It is for a person who wants all of the benefits of having a super best friend who trains, but makes no effort to be somebody worth treating as a super best friend.

I believe that that is a reasonable expectation to set - When you are asking someone to spend their free time on you but not paying them, treat that time with respect and don't waste it. It's not hard or too much to ask. And that is the core of what I feel the phrase "try trying" is about. It is short-hand for a longer chastisement about the rudeness of asking for infinite hand-holding for free:
You are trying to force me to spend more effort on solving your problems than you are willing to spend on solving them yourself, and giving me nothing in return to make that worth my time. You are wasting my time, and that is rude. Fuck you, try harder.
Or about a complete lack of effort in execution:
The results you want are wildly out of proportion to how hard you're actually trying to achieve them. You are wasting everybody's time asking for advice when you aren't even working at what you already know you need to do. Quit fucking around and try harder.
 And it is short-hand on purpose, because the purpose of saying the above would not be to help someone, but to be dismissive, and shortening it improves on the dismissal.

Yes, it is rude and unhelpful. But the argument of rude = wrong as a universal truth is silly and naive. If someone says "Fuck you", it is appropriate and acceptable to say "No, fuck you" in return. The rudeness of telling somebody "try trying" is, in almost all cases I've witnessed, reciprocal. The only difference is the nature of the initiating "Fuck you", because it is not overt. But it is nonetheless fundamentally rude to ask others to engage with you at the level of a normally paid professional, except for free and without any respect for their time.

This is what many fail to understand - Rudeness does not need to be direct and overt to be rudeness. If you were to say directly to someone, "My time is more important to me than your time, and I want you to spend your own time so that I do not have to spend mine, and I will also give you nothing in return. I may not even thank you.", there would be no confusion that you are being a shithead. Make no mistake - In asking a low effort question or fucking around, a person may not be saying it, but that is still what they are communicating. And "try trying" is the reply that they have earned.

You Are Dumber Than a Toddler

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