Book Hippo

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Learned Helplessness

It's strange but I never fixed anything when I was a girl. I didn't know how and nobody taught me. I just assumed that when something stopped working, you threw it out and I kept that attitude long after I grew up.

I wouldn't even sew buttons on, out to the trash went the shirt, or whatever it was, that was no good.

Then I found myself working among some immigrants from Poland and Romania. They were my first indication that the world was not necessarily how I saw it, that there were different ways to see the world. It was quite shocking to find, for instance, that the inspiration for Dracula, Vlad Dracule the Impaler was considered a hero to those people. The earth moved.

So one day I'm washing out a fridge and I took the vegetable bin out and couldn't figure out how to put it back. Oh, no, I thought, what do I do now? Well, one of the Romanians came along and I told her my problem. She put the fridge back together in one minute.

You've done that before, I said. But she insisted she hadn't and told me that all you had to do was look and you could figure out how to put something together. So easy. A rod fits into a hole. Once she pointed it out to me I wondered how I'd never known that before.

I'd always known there were men who could fix things but I never could. She was the first woman I met who wasn't afraid to be able to do something. She could see this trait in all Canadian girls and it was frustrating to her that we couldn't figure out how to do anything for ourselves.

I saw the trait again in a Japanese girl who lived next to me in a house. She ordered an Ikea bed. Ikea is the pet peeve of many Canadian girls who can never figure out how to put any of it together.

My neighbour had it together, the mattress on and bed made within twenty minutes. Another lesson for me. It's good I live in a culturally diverse place or I would never learn that these things are possible, only accept that what I saw around me. ie. that girls can't put together Ikea, was truth. It isn't. It's cultural. Learned helplessness.

So it's taken me a while to learn that I actually can do things. It just took a little push. This is how it's done and  now I can jumpstart my own thinking processes about these kind of things.

Better late than never.


  1. As I get older I realize that I've developed a crutch by telling myself I can't do things. My dad was a mechanic who could fix anything and I think I was intimidated by that. I'm trying to get better at fixing things. I recently unclogged our bathroom sink and now I take pride when I see the water swirling down the drain.

  2. I was lucky enough to have parents who taught us that we can do just about anything. And if we didn't know something, my father lead us to the library and introduced us to the world of how-to books. And I'm sure you can do most things too ;)

  3. You're lucky to have that support although I don't think it's sinister that many parents don't teach their kids that they can do anything. They just don't think of it. I suppose Dummy books are the best these days. I will have to give them a chance. Cheers