The Infantilization of Everyone

Yesterday I saw an article by a teacher in the Bay Area asking NBA MVP Stephan Curry to not visit his school.  The teacher loves Steph’s team and Steph’s game and is happy for his success.  He just doesn’t want him to come visit the kids because he’s afraid the kids will think they can do what Curry has done.  The teacher pointed to Curry’s NBA father and other things he had growing up that helped him better train for a career in basketball than most of these kids will have access to.

The teacher’s concern is not unlike comments and complaints I see every time someone shares a post or article or piece of advice to young people.  Even seemingly simple things like, “Keep your expenses low so you can seize opportunities to do cool stuff even if it doesn’t pay”, or, “Try getting experience before deciding on a career path”, or, “Go after things you really love”,  are met with cries of, “That’s dangerous advice”, and, “Not everyone is privileged like you”, and, “You’re setting people up for failure because that advice doesn’t apply to every situation”.

My question to the teacher and the posers of these objections is the same: who are these people you are so concerned about?

Surely the teacher doesn’t think his students are too stupid to realize that Steph Curry has different physical characteristics than they do.  Surely his pupils aren’t so naive and ignorant of all aspects of the world to think that every person who wants to will be an NBA star.  Who among them will spend all of their time training only to have their life ruined when they discover too late that the Golden State Warriors won’t pay them to play?

And who is going to destroy their own life with no hope of recovery based on a Facebook post?  Who is going to assume every piece of advice they’ve ever heard applies to their every situation?

It’s incredibly demeaning to assume everyone but you is so dumb they must be protected from success stories or inspiration or advice because they’ll be unable to see differences between those giving it and their own lives.  It’s arrogant, unbecoming, and at worst the basis for paternalistic forms of social control.

Kids aren’t dumb.  Neither are poor people.  They know they’re almost certainly not going to be Michael Jordan or BeyoncĂ© or Bill Gates.  Meeting and hearing from successful people – whether “privileged” or not – can be eye-opening, exciting, and challenging.  It can be fun.  Hearing their stories and tips and advice can be useful.

Coddling people and running around policing anyone who talks about their success or says, “You can do great stuff”, or keeping a privilege scorecard doesn’t help anyone.

Being inspired is not dangerous.  Being uninspired is.