First, some people simply fling “try harder” at another person whenever a request or plea for help is aired, because they TOO are feeling overwhelmed and unable to help, or because they TOO are already trying “harder” than they feel like they ought to have to try. They deserve our sympathy, though it’s a subtle investigative act to figure out if that’s really the case about them.
Second, and to the contrary, sometimes, people who have a vested interest in the current power-systems, will demand that you participate in those systems (they do so because, otherwise, their own past investments will seem to diminish in value, of course), so they’ve become adept at spouting whatever verbal challenge will most insinuate THEIR system into YOUR values. This happens with the Protestant Work Ethic, for example, among people who have spent a great deal of their lives working at regular jobs only to find that they have gained merely marginal rather than stupendous success; then, when faced with someone who seems to reject the idea of putting in the same loads of life-long effort, their defensive instincts kick in and they trickily demand that this new-thinking person please revert to old-think, and they do so for their own peace of mind, not for the new person’s benefit.
For both the types above, we probably should not forget to look at their OWN interests in the matter, when they say something like that. Maybe they’re hurting because of their own inability to exert that effort, or maybe they want to demand that you waste effort like they did.
Or maybe they just don’t know what advice to offer and therefore (wrongly) spout whatever the prevailing system says is the “right” way to success. In 1264 AD in medieval Europe, one peasant wouldn’t have said to another, “thou shalt plow thine furrow deeper and with more assiduous effort in order that thou shalt prevail to gain riches and wealth and have greater attention in thine schoolrooms.” Instead, unlike in our culture, the medieval peasant was more likely to have said, “know your place and trust in God.” In 43 BC, the Roman citizen said, “Rome is in the eye of the beholder, and if you crave riches you should cultivate good friendships with powerful other citizens,” or he said, “because you are a female / slave / foreigner / whatnot-else, you should shut up, stop trying to have a good life, and simply plow your furrow like you’re told.” Thus we can see, the “try harder” mantra is a product of our time and culture, not a central tenet of the human condition. Many cultures believe that it is foolish, even immoral, to put in excessive or under-productive work merely for the value of the expenditure of effort. Most rich people even in our culture have figured out that under-productive effort is not the way to riches.
“Please apply just a little more effort”? This has been a very difficult piece of advice that I’ve received from a large number of sectors in my life, and on nearly all occasions it has turned out that I should have ignored the advice. In Law School I was told I wasn’t “trying hard enough” only to learn that no matter how hard I tried, I would still get the same old B-minus or C-plus grade, and in fact I knew more of the legal doctrine than nearly all of my classmates. Yet, unbeknownst to me, I also had a wrong-ish verbal style, the wrong parents and family name, and the wrong typeface on my computer (really!). Finally, as well, my undergrad school had been recorded by the Admissions office incorrectly as a tier-5 last-chance-type school rather than the highly-selective tier-1-type school which I actually attended with a similar name. After I corrected that minor record-keeping error, suddenly and magically my supposedly anonymously-graded work got much higher marks, even though I changed none of my verbal style or parents or family name or computer typeface. In other words, they TOLD me to try harder because they didn’t understand that there were possibly other problems, some of which THEY would have to take responsibility for.
Similarly, every time I wanted to date a pretty girl during my high school years but the girl didn’t want to date me, or maybe the girl was simply ambivalent, on-the-fence, she never said, “I’m sorry, I think you’re OK for a lot of reasons but I don’t want to date you.” No, she always said, “Please try harder and maybe you’ll get a chance to go out with me,” or implied as much through subtle verbal cues and hints and so on. Thus, I wrongly believed that I should try harder, when in fact I should have tried DIFFERENTLY. I should have learned better to woo and please a high-school-aged girl (not a transferable skill!), or I should have found girls who were more “my type” and were more predisposed to liking me in the first place, or I should have in some other manner adjusted another part of my approach. Instead, I slavishly ACCEPTED the subordination that they were peddling, by going further and further out of my way to humiliate myself at their hands, which, of course, was just a mild ego-boost to their self-congratulation (high-school-aged girls being, like the boys, rather emotionally insecure and in need of some reassurance about their desirability) and therefore caused them even MORE to reject me and demand I try harder. In other words, by voluntarily accepting the suggestion that I should try harder, all I did was prove myself to be a limp milquetoast doormat. Whoops, that won’t ever work.
See, it’s a bad piece of advice. Glad I had a chance to discuss it a bit. I think I’m well on to MY history and problems and out of the realm of YOURS but maybe you can gain from reading the anecdotes anyway …