I used to sometimes pay other people to cut up my meat into small pieces (not as weird as it sounds—our house has a tiny internal token economy). Somehow chewing meat was surprisingly hard for me, and so (unrelatedly?) was cutting it with a knife. I think I attributed these failings to some kind of generalized lack of virtue with respect to dealing with food.
Then one day a few months ago, my boyfriend said something like ‘I don’t understand—why can’t you cut meat? It’s not like there are lots of ways to do it wrong—you just put the knife here, and then go like this’ and I was like ‘Oh!’ and then I could cut the meat. (See picture, and pretend chocolate is meat and plastic knife is metal knife.)
Encouraged, we went on to investigate why I couldn’t chew the meat, and learned that I was attempting to chew it with a different set of teeth to the ones he was using. Apparently you are meant to break up meat with your canine teeth. I tried this, and it worked much better than what I was doing (kind of crushing it together with my back teeth).
Relatedly, the two of us often floss our teeth together, and I always take longer than he does. Similarly, I think we both put this down to some vague moral failure on my part. One day we investigated more carefully, and learned that I have twenty five percent more teeth than he does, which explained the time difference pretty well. (After some confusion we figured out that I have the normal number, and he had all of his wisdom teeth removed, plus another four long ago).
I recounted some of these stories to a different friend, and he asked me if I knew how to drink cold water. I said probably not—in fact I have never understood how people drink iced water, which hurts my teeth. He showed me how to purse my lips to avoid the coldest water touching my teeth.
All this was surprising to me. I had assumed that most variation in people’s abilities to do random things was due to small nebulous differences in many characteristics. Maybe Sam can’t throw a ball as well as Lara because his posture is different in a thousand subtle ways, and he tends to move his body less quickly, and his hands are not the same shapes and he has different attitudes and beliefs and habits, about throwing balls and about learning things in general. The aforementioned series of events suggests that more often than I thought, Sam can’t throw a ball as well as Lara because he has his foot too far forward, and if he moves it backwards he’ll be almost as good. Or at least, that this is true of me.
This doesn’t appear to make sense, because of course people do vary in heaps of small and nebulous ways, and lots of those ways should affect how good they are at random tasks. But perhaps if a person is bad enough at something for it to be noticeable, this is usually overwhelmingly caused by one very well defined problem? This is my best guess for now, but I am interested in others.
Another possibility is that this only applies to me—that I am somehow uniquely lacking at basic, easily teachable skills. Which might make sense, since I went to school less than the recommended amount as a child. But I doubt they had a class on meat-eating. Coincidence seems like a plausible explanation too—maybe things like this are rare, and I just came across several in quick succession. I guess I credit coincidence for three of four stories here involving teeth. I don’t have any good guesses that account for that. Possibly stories about teeth remind people of other stories about teeth.
How often do you think being bad at a task is due to some easily explained problem? That might be fixed in minutes? Have you found yourself severely lacking at common human skills? Did you ever get better at them? Were the solutions simple? Do you know how to effectively chew meat? How did you learn that?