The thing and the fear of the thing: why electricity may not be all that bad after all.

Herman was built in 1967, making him reassuringly older than me. He starts with a bang and a cloud of smoke, has a top speed of 40-45mph, depending how steeply you’re going downhill, and brakes that are, at best, optimistic. He also, in common with all Land Rovers and British engineering in general, has a hazy relationship with functioning electronics. Sometimes the front lights work, sometimes the rear lights work, occasionally, and generally when turning sharply left, all the lights work.

Now, I’m no mechanic, but I can recognise that Herman has a lot less moving parts than most modern cars, and indeed that most of those parts are held on with large bolts and/or pieces of string. Indeed, he only has two fuses, both of which are the same as the one that powers my coffee machine at home.

So, in a fit of enthusiasm, i decided that i could fix the lights myself. After all, it’s just wiring, some bulbs and a fuse. I mean, seriously, how complicated can it be?

Now, it turns out that the problem is electricity: the thing and the myth of the thing. On those very rare occasions that i do any form of electrics at home, i generally turn the main fuse on again whilst shielding my face and preparing for a loud bang. It’s not that i’m terrified of electricity, but just that i don’t really trust it and I suspect that the feeling is mutual.

And this is true of many things: there is the thing and the fear of the thing. I know that electricity is a quantifiable thing, that in theory i can learn how it works, predict how it will behave and, with the right tools and knowledge, master it. But i’ve anthropomorphised it, much as i’ve anthropomorphised Herman, into a slightly malevolent but loosely tamed force of nature that causes me both wonder and fear in equal measure.

This is true of many things that we need to learn: to drive, do accounting, to prune roses. There is the actual thing itself, and then the fear of getting it wrong, the irrational, inflated, unlikely but feared failure and/or injury to body or pride that might ensue. Indeed, so great can this fear be that it prevents us from doing the very thing that we want to learn to do.

Overcoming the inertia that this leads to can be the biggest part of the learning experience. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but a little bit more can be reassuring. Often, it doesn’t take much to break through the barrier, to start building confidence and understanding, but it’s these first careful steps of the learning journey that can need the most support and we have to recognise and accept that the fear of failure or the myth of ignorance may be a substantial hurdle to jump.

About julianstodd

Author and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the Social Age. I’ve written ten books, and over 2,000 articles, and still learning...
This entry was posted in Barriers to Learning, Complexity, Fear and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The thing and the fear of the thing: why electricity may not be all that bad after all.

  1. Pingback: Closed Competence | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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