Sunday, January 13, 2013

Lacking Context

The other day I went to my climbing gym.  It was a day that I wasn't there to meet anyone in particular, I just went to boulder on a night when it was likely some of the climbing friends I made would be there.  I climbed.  I was having fun, although not climbing particularly well, and being that the group of people I liked had conglomerated around one wall, I joined them and worked on a problem there that some others were playing on.  

There was this other woman there (I'll call her Condi) who had not been to that particular gym before, although she was clearly an experienced climber.  She was with a couple I had definitely seen in the gym a number of ties, but hadn't previously socialised with.  This triad eventually moved to the wall I was playing on with my friends, and Condi did the problem I was playing on after a number of tries and was playing on something else.  One of my friends got the problem and she was really excited about it.  I was close, but there was something in the last couple of moves that I wasn't figuring out.  My group eventually cleared out, but I gave the problem a few more tries, changing up what I was doing at the end, looking for the way that would work for me.  Condi had a lot of opinions and suggestions which she shared freely. 

Climbers refer to information on a climb as "beta".  My opinion about beta is that one should be open to sharing it, like they would chalk (oddly some people don't share chalk, either).  One has to be careful, and not shove a lot of beta at a person who wants to figure out a climb on their own, or worse, someone who's not really had a chance to try the climb yet.  I have always tried really hard to ask someone new to me if they want beta, or waited until they asked for some, before I've given it.  In the case of this problem, I wasn't figuring out the ending sequence, so at first I really didn't mind the beta Condi was tossing. 

It got a little annoying, however, when she started to say shit like, "Sometimes you've just got to feel the way your body wants to move and go with it."  This is not necessarily bad or wrong advice (despite sounding stupidly flakey), but it's stuff than at experienced climber already knows.  It's like reminding an adult to wash their hands after going to the washroom.  Condi moved on in a comparable vein saying things that I'm sure she thought were kind and encouraging, like "We all have bad days, I'm sure you'll get it next time." and "The numbers don't really mean anything."  I kept my mouth shut, but it really started to piss me off.  Because I've been climbing for years and used to be pretty good at it, all the crap she was coming up with just came out as bloody condescending.  

I ended up making a point of talking to Condi about having broken my ankle last year and having a bunch of health issues this year.  This stuff is none of her damn business, and I hate making excuses, but I really wanted to get it into her skull that she was making assumptions about me that were completely off base.  I wanted to try to open her mind to the notion that maybe not everyone who is climbing poorly is new.

The whole thing, however, has left me with a nagging unease.  Have I done anything like this?  Have I tried to talk up someone I didn't know and inadvertently insulted them?  Have I treated someone like they didn't know what they were doing when they had some invisible disability that was hampering them?  I feel like I need to look a little more closely at myself and my own motivations for opening my mouth.  In the case of Condi, I really can't be certain if she was genuinely trying to make me feel better, or if she was trying to prop herself up as the cool and welcoming expert to the bumbling ingénue she took me for.

When I first began to climb, I was welcomed and helped so much by the climbing community that was in place at the time.  I knew people who gave me excellent coaching when I needed it, and genuinely encouragement.  I met folks who could be as thrilled by a beginner's victory over a V1 as they could by a strongman's completion of a V9.  These people helped me and shaped me and gave me something that has changed my life for the better.  I would rather be one of those people than someone who judges without information and ends up belittling.  I will be trying hard in the future to keep my eyes open and my mouth shut.

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