Learned Helplessness

While I was reading “Brain Rules” I was fascinated by a concept called “Learned Helplessness.” I’ve seen it discussed in several other contexts since then.

In short, various studies have shown that helplessness isn’t something we are born with. It’s something we learn. There’s a lot of helplessness in the world, and it leads to dissatisfaction, frustration, crime, and a host of bad consequences. But if it can be learned, then that means it can also be unlearned.

Unlearning is difficult. It typically takes a lot of evidence in the contrary and often even that’s not enough to sway our position.

Even more important is unteaching helplessness. There are teachers out there in inner-city schools and across America that are teaching kids that contrary to the evidences in their lives, they are not helpless. These teachers do so for little pay, and the systems they work in give them little incentives to continue doing so. They are unsung heroes, who change the world indirectly.

In all cases, eliminating helplessness means giving people the resources, education, and inspiration they need to be successful. I believe that the web will be the primary medium for doing this over the next several decades, due to it’s low cost and ubiquity. If you want to make an impact, there’s no better time to tool yourself to teach, learn, and publish on the web than today.