Not My Thing

Why I Stopped Believing in “Bad Taste”

note: This will be the last edition of Good at Work, but not the end of my weekly newsletters. Beginning next week, I’ll be launching a new name and updated format, along with other exciting news.

As a teenager, I very consistently made fun of people who like country music. For a long stretch, I also had disdain for people who preferred Windows computers. Getting teased for these things was part of being friends with me.

Fast forward to today, and I still don’t listen to country music—though I now quite like bluegrass—and I still don’t use a Windows computer. What’s changed is how I think of the people who do.

Of the many ways we divide ourselves as people, I think the most petty and pointless way is in how we judge each other’s taste. The instinct for it still creeps into my brain, but I try to spot it for what it is—enjoyment in looking down on others

I’ve learned that people see far more than I do in their favorite music, hobby, tool, or distraction. When someone puts their time, attention, and identity into something, it’s because they see beauty or meaning there. Their appreciation of it, if I asked them to explain, would be fuller and deeper than I give them credit for.

It’s not that there’s no such thing as good taste. There is, but it’s not measured by how someone’s preferences match my own. Instead, I find it in creativity and judgment that lead to improvement. People who make things easier to use, understand, or enjoy have a skill I envy (and try to emulate). They have good taste.

I do still struggle to respect expensive tastes, the kind that involve more money than many people see in their lifetimes. I also think interests that celebrate cruelty are wrong. But these are moral questions, not preferences, and my time on these is better spent looking inward.

What’s on your “bad taste” list? Could a little curiosity lead you to more respect and understanding? There may be new beauty and meaning there, hiding in the people before you.

(If you want some practice, go listen to the Enthusiast podcast It had a short run, but opens your eyes to passions of all kinds.) 


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