165: Put Your Ego Away

165: Put Your Ego Away

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Last week, there was an increase in messages and emails to me with homesteading/prepping/homeschooling/etc questions. I find the increase in questions generally aligns with an increase in chaos around the world, and I think Biden’s vaccine mandate speech last week added to that unrest. But what also increased for me was emails and chats with folks who had asked homesteading/prepping/homeschooling questions elsewhere and been made to feel as though they were less than for asking and less than for not already knowing the answer.

The funny thing is that the people talking with me about the attitudes they’d experienced when asking a how-to question aren’t new to homesteading at all. We’re not talking about people who have suddenly decided that homesteading is something they want to check out. We’re talking about people who have been doing this awhile, some of them with way more awesome setups than I have, and they pop in to a group to ask a question and get told basically, “I can’t believe you don’t already know this” or “I can’t believe you’re not already doing this, you’re so behind.”

One listener asked if I had any tips on how to back up a trailer because she’d basically been ousted from a conversation, because “someone who had lived on a farm as long as she had should be able to back up a trailer.”

Another friend asked me if he just sucked at prepping because he doesn’t have as much stuff as others, and when he went into a group to talk to people about what he was doing, someone actually said, “you call that prepping?”

Similarly, another friend was in a livestream and asked a question about relocating to a different state and was told “(you) don’t have enough motivation if (you’re) not prepared to have (your) family live in a tent in the middle of nowhere.”

Y’all. This is what I think when I hear folks get really really sure of themselves and vocal about survival skills, etc.:

1 ) A lot of people talk really big about being able to have their family dropped in the middle of nowhere and they’d be able to survive. My thought? I’d like to see it. Because the louder people talk about it, the more I think they’re full of it. Most of the people I know who I’m pretty confident could handle a SHTF situation are not people who feel the need to talk about it or judge others about what they’re doing. They actually answer questions and help people build their skills.

2 ) Any survival or self-defense skills I have and any prepping I’ve done is a big vat of stuff and skills that I don’t want to have to access. And I’ve got to tell you, every time things look like they might be headed south, there’s always a few people who seem to get a little too excited that things are headed south and that they might be able to dig into that vat of stuff. It’s one thing to feel validated that you’ve got skills and you’ve prepared. It’s another thing to get some weird sort of gratification from the fact the world is falling apart.

None of us know everything. None of us have done everything.

I just started saving seeds. Now, I’ve lived at our farm for ten years. And I’ve had a garden at every house I’ve ever lived at as an adult. But I’ve never saved seeds until this year.

I know. Gasp. I actually assumed it was way more complicated than it was. I’d just never really looked into it before. But this was the year that I finally said this is the thing I’m gonna add to my set of skills.

Now, imagine if I had asked a question during a livestream or in a forum about saving seeds and someone’s response was, “well if you’re not already saving seeds, you’re already behind.”

Um, okay?

Thank you. That helps my anxiety a lot. And also, um… it doesn’t answer the question I asked you.

The reason people do this? Ego.

There are groups out there of like-minded people whose goal is to move forward in self-sufficiency, but groups also attract people who are really proud of what they know and want to tell you all about what they know because they know more than you. (And that’s not specific to homesteading or prepping groups; this issue happens whether we’re talking about parenting groups or gun groups or author groups or anything.)

And I’ve tried to figure out multiple reasons for why people do this and I can only come up with one. Ego.

Can’t we just help each other learn stuff? Can’t we just help each other progress without letting ego get in the way?

Disclaimers, because they always have to be stated:

I’m not talking about the person in your life who has asked 15,000 times for help and every single time they ask, they do the opposite of what you advised them to do. We all have those people in our life, and at some point we are wise to say, “okay, my time is better spent elsewhere.”

I also don’t think being decent when people ask a question means we have to hold hands while we talk or that we have to coddle people through their journey to where we might already be. But if someone asks you a question about storing gas or planting garlic or what breed of chickens lays a decent amount of eggs or wants to learn how to bake a decent loaf of bread or would like you show them how to butcher a deer or a pig or a turkey, your go-to response should not be something that makes you look like a jerk.

Y’all, chances are they are asking you because they already think you know the answer. I don’t know what is to be gained by you then looking down the end of your nose and saying something like, “butchering a deer? I’ve been doing that since I was five,” with that tone that infers what are you even doing with your life? What does that help?

Peacock showing it's tail feathers

Your experience matters. But so does your attitude.

The people I like to ask for advice are the people I know will a) answer the question if they know the answer b) will immediately admit if they don’t have the answer, and c) if they do have the answer, won’t feel the need to tell me their life’s resume and their gold star level of awesome before they even get to the answer.

There is a difference in mentioning you’ve had chickens for twelve years as a way to back up the advice you’re giving, and making someone feel like whatever is on the bottom of your Muck boot because they haven’t had chickens for twelve years.

What’s the purpose in your response?

Is it to help? Or to prove how awesome you are? It amazes me how an answer about chickens or relocating or going off grid or pressure canning can pull so much ego into it.

What’s the purpose in saying, “you should have already been doing this ten years ago?” Because the thing is a) the person probably already knows that, and b) you didn’t answer their question.

Do you get extra points because you knew it first? Do you get a special stamp on your I Am Awesome! card if you saw something coming first?

It feels like a reverse cool kids club where certain hardcore preppers/homesteaders/etc are looking down their noses at those of us who are less hardcore (or who aren’t yet experienced in one spoke of the self-sufficient/reliant life). Kind of like some cheerleaders used to look down their nose at the drama students. Which makes me think that’s not a high school thing as much as it’s just a people thing.

My biggest pet peeve about this is…

We all say we want people to wake up to what’s happening—whether that’s political, or where our world is headed, or the importance of self-reliance—but then we have people who are complete jack holes when people finally wake up to what’s happening and start asking questions.

So was it really about people waking up to what’s going on? Or was it about people noticing that you figured it out first and you’re further ahead?

Ego is a problem. And it never answers the question you were asked. Ego is just noise. And if you truly believe we’re headed for the apocalypse or government breakdown or Civil War 2 or World War 3, I wouldn’t waste your breath or your time with noise.

Put your ego away and answer the question.

— Amy Dingmann, 9-14-21

Related past blog post/podcast episode: 134 — Teach What You Know Without Being a Jerk

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