I have a friend who has lived in China for over a decade, but if you ask him about his Mandarin (a Chinese language), he will tell you he only has “survival skills.” Sometime early in his transition into Chinese culture, he made a decision (unconsciously or not) to forgo fluency in lieu of getting by. There was just enough English recognition around where he lived to make it possible to get along without going along.
I find that everyone makes decisions like this when it comes to some of their weak skills. For example, I made the decision to settle for survival skills in the areas of time management, remembering names and following directions. These three weaknesses cause me chronic, frustrating difficulties. I show up late to everything, but I can usually blame getting lost (because I did) if only I could remember the names of the people I owe the apology to.
It’s not that I couldn’t have developed these skills to some level of proficiency. It’s that I never HAD to.
The consequences of tardiness haven’t always been fun, but they’ve been bearable. In fact, I find that sometimes showing up early is a punishment in itself, because I have to wait around for things to get started. Whereas, when I’m late, people usually forgive me and the proceedings are already proceding when I get there.
The consequences of getting lost are irritating at times, but I married well. My wife can find places she’s never been even without directions. It’s a sixth or seventh sense, I think.
The consequences of forgetting names are almost always embarrassing, but I’ve learned to say things like, “Hey….you! It’s you, isn’t it? Honey, you remember this guy, right? He’s…..oh, excuse me, I’ve got Irritable Bowel Syndrome – talk amongst yourselves – I’m going to be verklempt.”
The best consequence is that people lower their expectations of me in these areas. Seriously. They just assume I’ll be late, lost and lacking good manners, and I’ve come to accept that. It’s better than the alternative – CHANGE! Change hurts, and it requires energy – something I have less and less of these days. I’m satisfied with a depleting status quo.
So, let’s hear it for survival skills and the codependent people in our lives that enable this type of mediocre behavior – whatever their names are.
Hip Hip Hooray!