Verschlimmbessern and other knotty problems.

I am currently knitting myself a hat using the pattern of the carpet famous from the overlook hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining. I started it ages ago but the weather got better and, what with one thing and another, got sidetracked. It’s a bit fiddly as the three yarns need to be looped over each other and, being pure wool, they start felting together if you aren’t careful. People can get in such a state knitting, I teach people how to knit occasionally and one of the first things I do is show them how to recover from all the most common mistakes such as dropped stitches, undoing rows  and untangling things. The most important things most people need to learn is how to be calm and how to be patient. People tend to start panicking, pulling this, yanking that, all big gestures and force. If you aren’t careful, everything is soon a complete mess and totally ruined. The key is to gently put everything down and take a long hard look at it all, think about it and calmly plan what you need to do and the order in which to do it.

This works in so many other areas of life. I had to learn this very hard lesson when my depression and low self esteem pulled my life apart, if I tried to make up for lost time, taking on too much, rushing things and not thinking things through, I would end up back where I started. I spent a lot of time with a therapist, working out where in life I wanted to be and reverse engineering the steps needed to get there.

There is a wonderful German word, Verschlimmbessern, meaning to make something worse when trying to fix it. I see this all the time, people get all excited and carried away, getting loads of people involved, making a big song and a dance about something, throwing loads of time and money at things rather than standing back and looking at a problem and really thinking about what really needs to be done.

The big mistake a lot of people make is trying to do the thing they want to do in a situation rather than the thing that actually needs doing. The most dangerous things to have in any situation are an ego or an agenda. Things very quickly become about the people doing a thing rather that the thing that needs doing, however well meaning the intentions may have been in the first place, the most appalling, futile, or offensive things can be done for the very best of intentions. A bit of objectivity can work wonders sometimes.

I had a very humbling experience earlier today, I watched a video about a charity I worked with six months or so back. I have seen people go into these situations and try and stamp their ego all over them, telling people exactly how to do things and the end results are a room full of bad copies of that person’s work. What I try and do is calmly and quietly give people a tool kit of things that may be of use but most importantly give people permission to be themselves and let them off the hook from all the preconceived baggage that they have picked up over the years, mainly from people trying to get them to do things their way. What the film showed is that the participants had taken that permission and run with it, doing all sorts of wonderful stuff. Anyone could have done what I did really, I’m not taking any credit for their ideas or work but it makes me happy that in this case it was me that handed them the keys to their own kingdom. 


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