Push Pause on Preference

We’re not lazy assholes. We just haven’t learned how to like new things. Yet.

Figure 1: #mood

The entire world is divided into two boxes, one large and one small.

One box is named “Shit I Like.” That’s the small box. The other, larger box is named “Shit I Don’t Like.”

You created and started throwing things into these boxes a long time ago. As a baby, before you even had language, you were using these boxes. And when you learned words, you learned one that was especially fun to say.

Have you ever spent any time with a 2–3 year old? You know what that kid’s favorite word is? It might be yours, too.

“No.”

Try it out:

You want to try this food you’ve never had before? You want to read this amazing book I just finished? You want to hear this band I just got into? You want to brush your teeth with your other hand? You want to take this night class about how to use Excel more efficiently with me? You want to have dinner with this person you disagree with politically? You want to drive home a different way than you usually go? You want to learn how people spend their day in Zimbabwe? You want to try a new workout?

Figure 2: The Nope Train from KnowYourMeme.com

I could go on and on. Self-chosen ignorance is a popular value in American culture. I call it the Prison of Preference.

Worse, everything in the world I Don’t Care About gets thrown into the “I Don’t Like This Shit” box as a default. So does all the stuff in the I Don’t Know About. It’s an astonishingly terrible default — but most of us have our human preference settings configured this way.

Consequently, you learn a ton about the things you like. You are probably an expert on the classic rock, baking biscuits, fantasy football, hip hop, 19th Century symphonic music, or how to skip the line at your favorite coffee shop. You know why? Because you like learning about that shit.

And you don’t know a damn thing about your state legislator, how to change the oil in your car, the names of your neighbor’s lousy kids, how your phone works, or why bad milk is bad but cheese (which is basically bad milk) is good. And that’s because you don’t care about learning that shit.

Think about how we empower young children to choose a favorite color or food. Their favorite place to sit. Their favorite class in school. It’s (ahem) insane. We actually encourage our kids to get into the prison of preference — and they are pretty happy to meet us in there.

Is there a simpler way to explain the political, religious, or social tumult of human history? It’s people saying that the “Shit We Don’t Like” should be controlled, ignored, or destroyed.
Figure 2: Diagram of every fallen empire in history.

So what the hell should we do?

This is my favorite lesson in my theatre class, by the way.

The trick is simple but difficult. It takes discipline and practice. It’s a move that has been the cornerstone of great teaching throughout time. It’s the fundamental of all growth — and yet we basically tell each other to avoid it.

We have to push pause on preference. We must suspend our machinery of liking — and disliking — things.

Before you decide if you like that shit or don’t like that shit, give that shit a try. Don’t judge it one way or the other. Experience The New with an open mind, see what it feels like. If it feels lousy, fine. You don’t have to like it. You can’t just make yourself like something you don’t. Just push pause on preference. Let the thing — whatever it is — tell you about itself. Describe it without judgement. Engage with it.

Think about how powerful you could become if you could experience what you DON’T like with the enthusiasm of how you experience what you DO like.

It’s not impossible to reverse the flow. Start small. Go ahead, eat that food you’re already sure is “Shit I Don’t Like.” See what it tastes like. Experience what you don’t like about it. Judging it merely closes you off, restricting you to a narrow window of learning.

You’ll be amazed at what happens. Your brain will change. It’s the single biggest way to expand your world. And you don’t even need a plane ticket.

Thanks for reading. See you at the Prison dinner — I hope they are serving crab-stuffed flounder. And freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. And vanilla ice cream. With Irish whiskey.

Damn, I love that shit.


If you liked this piece, please clap for it. Go ahead, pile them on. It feels so good to hold the button down.

Also, please share it if you think it might make someone’s day/life/otherwise boring existence just a bit more tolerable.


Mike Kleba has been teaching high school English and Theatre for nearly 20 years. From his classroom, he’s leading DegreeCast, a startup that is building a software tool designed to make higher ed search more practical and delightful. Co-founder of Teachernomics.com, Kleba has spoken on stages around the world about the importance and power of teachers in leadership. He believes that humanity’s most important asset is the imagination.