Let me tell you a story.
As I have mentioned here before, I spent almost a whole decade thinking my physical symptoms were all psychosomatic because that was what everyone kept telling me. Doctors soon decided that all I needed was psychotherapy, and thus I got to meet many shrinks, saw the inside of a psychosomatic clinic and a regular psych ward, was put on several anti-depressants that failed to help, and went to a therapy group for roughly five years. At one point I even ended up in a supervised home for “troubled” teenagers and young adults, which is where our story begins.
You see, they had this crazy system. Looking back at it now, I can only describe it as a bizarre mix of the Weight Watchers “points” system, a classic MMORPG and so-called “rating communities” on LiveJournal. If you happen to be familiar with all three, you should be able to see why the idea of combining them does NOT sound like something to try at home. Not that there’s anything wrong with MMORPGs, mind you, it’s just that … they’re not real.
What led to the system’s creation was that some of the people who used to live there before me were upset about the many rules and regulations that they had to follow although many seemed so unnecessary. For example, you were not allowed to bring your own computer or television just because some people might sometimes neglect their social lives if they have access to those. Never mind that other people might use a computer for great hobbies such as creative writing or web design, and even watching tv or – shock and horror – playing video games can have benefits depending on the situation.
However, the people who worked in that place – I’ll call them “supervisors” since I am not sure which English term fits best – knew that if they allowed 7 out of 9 inhabitants to do something which the remaining two could not be trusted with, hell would break loose. So they formed a discussion group with the kids who had brought up the issue and together they conjured up a … great big real life role-playing game made of utter fail. I understand that they meant well, but as far as I’m concerned they could have just as well written the ultimate manual on how to delude unsuspecting victims into thinking they are being treated equally when they clearly aren’t.
Here’s how it worked: If the supervisors thought you were suddenly better at, say, handling money than two months ago, you moved up a rank on the “money” scale. If your social skills seemed to have improved, you moved up a rank on the “social” scale. There were several other categories beside these and the highest rank for each was 6. Now, certain combinations such as 4 “money” + 5 “social” or even 4 “hygiene” + 3 “social” + 5 “money” + 4 “school/work” would grant you access to extra privileges. (Getting your own computer was a giant chain of fours, fives and sixes that was nigh impossible for any average person to achieve, by the way. They didn’t tell me that when I moved in, so I practically had to relearn HTML, CSS and how to use Photoshop from scratch after more than a year of being unable to practise. Some of the things I forgot during that time seem to be lost forever. Yes, I’m still mad. *fumes*)
You may be wondering why they didn’t just assess everyone’s capabilities on an individual basis, but I guess they didn’t want to deal with being constantly told that they were treating someone unfairly. Once the system was in place, they could simply tell you that of course you could have a tv, you’d just have to meet the requirements first like everybody else!! Ah, the joys of equality.
One of the system’s major flaws was that in order to prevent recollection bias and huge differences between one supervisor’s assessment and another’s, they were given a “helpful” chart in which they could note down, daily, what everyone was doing. This happened in the form of points. Instead of having to actually talk to us and use their brains, they could look at a predefined list of activities which they deemed likely to indicate competence in one of their categories, and mark the ones that they had seen us do. Brilliant, just brilliant. In essence, if you forgot to mention that you had exercised, you didn’t get any exercise points. Obviously you could also easily fake having exercised, but I don’t even want to go into that. The mere thought hurts.
Aside from the technical inefficacy, there were at least two other aspects of the chart that I found deeply troubling: One, it didn’t take each individual’s motivation for doing said activities into account. What if someone was in the process of developing an eating disorder accompanied by compulsive exercising? What if someone desperately hated exercise and only did it for the points? (Mind you, I am only using exercise as an example because I don’t remember many of the other activities on the list or why they were on it.)
Two, how on earth are people supposed to learn that something is good for them if you present it to them like a tool to get a computer?? They’ll move out and never do it again. Good job.
I mean, all of the abilities that they were trying to teach us were useful. Being able to handle money is useful. Being able to make friends is useful. Taking showers on a regular basis and washing your clothes is, at the very least, recommended. But shouldn’t they have asked us what made those things hard to do and, depending on the answer, either explained the benefits to us or helped us practise? Instead they were like, “Do this and we’ll give you a reward.” Lessons learned: This ability has no merits of its own, so I’ll pretend to be interested as long as I’m here and forget about it as soon as possible once I can.
Me, I was different anyway. I never had to do anything to reach rank 5 or 6 in both “money” and “hygiene” almost immediately – but I couldn’t get past 3 or 4 in “health”, “social” and “work” no matter how hard I tried. And believe me, I did try – not because I believed in their stupid system, but simply because I actually wanted to get better for no other reason than that it would have been nice. Unfortunately I had little to no interest in the rewards I got for just being myself, and I could only roll my eyes whenever I received yet another one. No, thanks, I didn’t want to stay out past curfew! What I wanted was my computer, which I needed for my hobbies. But since I didn’t have many friends and couldn’t go to work everyday due to my illness, I was doomed to infinite boredom. None of this helped me get better at all, which if you’ll remember was the whole POINT.
Then, of course, you have to consider that one can be perfectly healthy and still not excel in any of those categories. In fact I would go so far as to say that not everyone needs all of the abilities mentioned above. A disabled person doesn’t need to keep up a job. A person who is happy working in a simple profession does not need a social network to build a career (I despise the notion of using “connections” this way in the first place). A hermit doesn’t need to be good with money. Are all of those people insane? Do they need to be fixed? You can’t help anyone by telling them what they’re supposed to need and want. That awful place allowed for no individuality whatsoever.
If anyone’s still reading, thank you. Now, what’s the morale of the story? Treating everyone the same does not create equality, I suppose. I just wanted to get this out.
Bonus story (this time, a short one): Back when I was taking piano lessons, I enjoyed them a lot at first and looked forward to them every week. However, one day I couldn’t go because I wasn’t feeling well. My mother thought I was just being lazy and got angry with me because she was the one paying the fee. The same thing happened again a while later and eventually I started to dread Fridays out of fear I might feel unwell again. Then I started to associate piano lessons with that feeling. I stopped enjoying them. I still liked playing, but not necessarily on Fridays. The hobby I had taken up out of my own accord had been turned into a job that needed to be done each week no matter if I wanted to or not. Pressure reduces fun. I never became a true musician and the sad part is, I have a feeling that many people never get their dream jobs for exactly the same reason. Who knows how many brilliant inventions we’ve missed this way?