If you’re a woman, knowing how to cook is a big deal.
This, of course, makes no sense – especially given the fact that (in my experience) cooking is literally one of the easiest skills for any human being to learn. I’m not talking about the finer aspects of cuisine as an art here, but anyone with a modicum of common sense and a few months of experience can cook a decent meal with fair regularity.
Seriously, just don’t put too much salt, and don’t burn the food. Everything else is fixable.
Maybe I’m suffering from the “curse of knowledge” but it’s genuinely impossible for me to conceive that cooking is something even remotely dependent on talent.
The curse of knowledge (apart from sounding like something straight outta The Pilgrim’s Progress amirite??) is a cognitive bias where – as the name suggests – knowing more about something makes it difficult to see things from the perspective of someone with less experience. It’s why we generally can’t understand why it’s so difficult for our parents to use smartphones.
The expression varies but the principle is the same. If something seems simple to you, it’s going to be truly difficult to understand how it was when you were a beginner.
But I don’t think I’m suffering from the “curse of knowledge” when it comes on to cooking. I think some skills are objectively hard and require years of practice and dedication to master. There are no shortcuts to learning to play a musical instrument well. There’s no such thing as a recipe. You have to just practice for hours and hours and hours until your muscles can carry out intricate movements without conscious effort.
Objectively, I think playing an instrument is much harder than cooking.
But yet, society as a whole still attaches this needless hype to being able to cook, as if it were something intrinsically spectacular.
This idea, that cooking – or ANYTHING really – is a “talent”, is what I want to discuss.
What Makes Someone Talented?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a “talent” is a special ability that allows someone to do something well. This definition is the bedrock of those possessing talent, and the bane of those who don’t.
It allows the “talented” to glory in their intrinsic superiority and waft by on a higher plane of existence, confident in the reality of their uniqueness. And it provides the “talentless” with firm reinforcement that they will never be able to do that one thing…they’re just not cut out for it, so they might as well never try.
The idea that some people just have some “special”, magical ability to do…well, anything, is so ingrained in our culture that it may have well been taught right after our A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s.
“I’m just not a Maths person.”
“White people can’t dance.”
“Humans can never be truly peaceful and tolerant.”
Anyone who beats the odds and defies these rules are seen as unique themselves; they too are extraordinarily talented…so they don’t count.
But what’s going on here is actually a gross misunderstanding of what makes anyone “able” to do something.
The only “special ability” that allows someone to do anything well is…time.
We look at child virtuosos as if they stepped out of the womb and onto the piano stool, but the reality is, the only reason they’re so good is because they’ve spent HOURS – the kind of time most likely not available to an adult – practicing that skill.
Look: I know this may kill your vibe but…it’s not “natural”. No talent is.
Anyone who is good at anything, spent a considerable amount of time practicing the skills required for them to be good. They may have practiced the skill directly, as with playing an instrument. Or they may have picked up the skills indirectly, like how outgoing people are also generally good at making and maintaining conversations. They’re only good, because they’ve had lots of practice.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that some people don’t have preferences for particular activities.
I’m not saying that you should be able to do whatever you want, and you have no excuses whatsoever. I think “You can do whatever you want” is terrible advice. Temperament and availability of resources will play a huge role in what talents anyone will foster. For example, if someone can’t stand sitting down for very long, or has no piano anywhere in sight, it’s not logical to expect them to be able to play the piano. This goes for basically every skill, talent or ability.
Despite the seeming unbridled optimism of what I’m proclaiming, it makes no sense to compare yourself to others, or to think you “should” be able to do a particular thing. We’re all different, and we all have different circumstances.
But, a lot of the time, we give up doing things we really want and can actually achieve, not because it is practically impossible, but because we’ve simply accepted that – for us – it is. We give up because we think we can’t. And then it never happens, because we’ve already given up.
This behaviour is a by-product of a little thing called “learned helplessness”. We all like to believe that we are in control, that we live our lives based on our own terms and that we make our own decisions. But, in many areas of our lives, we have no control. And in many others, we’ve had to relinquish control to the powers that be.
This sense of helplessness, this lack of agency, spills over into the rest of our lives, and can affect us in surprising ways.
The blog You Are Not So Smart stated it well, “If, over the course of your life, you have experienced crushing defeat or pummeling abuse or loss of control, you learn over time there is no escape, and if escape is offered, you will not act…”
If you’ve ever, like me, said something like, “There’s no point in voting. It won’t make a difference anyway” you’ve felt the effects of learned helplessness. We think that the points we’re making are perfectly valid, but in reality, they’re probably not.
Except in Jamaica.)
It doesn’t help that so many institutions take away our power.
So, if you were not of the temperament to naturally grasp mathematics as a child, school teaches that this is somehow a fault of your particular brain – not that this is a speed bump that can be eventually smoothed over, but rather that it’s a monolithic immovable capital-P-Problem. And it’s your fault.
We blame students for not being able to read well, or be good at maths, or English, when the whole purpose of them coming to school was to learn it in the first place. We create a culture where people believe they aren’t competent, just because they’re not good at some particular thing.
But it’s not that you’re not good at it. It’s just that you’re not good at it…yet.
Remember, you have to suck at something first to get good at it.
This goes for anything: playing an instrument, doing Maths, and – yep – cooking.
So, why should every woman know how to cook?
Not because she is a woman – but because every HUMAN should know how to cook. Even if you’re super rich, I can’t see an argument against it. We all don’t have to sing, or dance or be awesome at calculus…but we all have to eat, amirite??
And because there’s no such thing as: “I can’t cook”.
There is only: “I can’t cook…yet.”