Okay, I realize there’s more than a little hubris in the title.
I guess I have wanted to be a kind of Jordan Peterson since long before Jordan Peterson was a thing. My goal is to do my best to understand life, to figure out what the most basic rules of human nature and human interaction are, and then write them down and share them, for others to evaluate, and use or reject as they see fit.
I relish the idea of helping others. I want to help everyone have a better life, to the best of my ability. I hope others can learn from my mistakes, and what I’ve learned from my mistakes, without having to make those mistakes themselves. My intent is to help make the world a better place to some degree. And, of course, my ability to analyze and reason is, to some degree, validated by those who are helped by my writings.
So there’s some ego involved. But I hope you can ignore that and find something helpful in my posts.
I think the main points of this topic should be pretty obvious to anyone who spends any time thinking about it at all. Pessimistically, that means it isn’t obvious to most people.
Here is the point:
Every organization has three main tiers: crew, crew chiefs, and leadership.
Crew could also be called labor, or workforce. These are the people doing the work. There often isn’t much thought involved in this. The work doesn’t require much ability. It is a skill that can be taught to sufficient competence to just about anybody. This is where the value of what they are selling or providing is actually created.
Crew chiefs could also be called middle management, and I’m sure there are other terms, as well. Crew Chiefs are leadership, but still distinct from leadership. This tier is often made up of senior crew/labor individuals who have been promoted, but not always. They are in charge of the labor. They resolve disputes, enforce rules, ensure quotas are being met, oversee quality, train the new employees, and handle welfare of the labor force.
The leadership tier comprises those who make decisions. When an organization grows to any size at all and obtains a geographic spread of any kind, there are also usually three tiers of leadership: Local/unit leaders, regional/group leaders, and executive leaders. The executive leaders set the direction for the organization.
Digression: I figured this out when I became an officer in the US military. There is a great deal of resentment among the enlisted in the US military against officers, for multiple reasons. The enlisted see that their lives are more at risk, that they do all the hard work, but officers get paid so much more. They see that junior officers often seem incompetent and depend on senior enlisted to avoid basic blunders, yet still get paid as much or more than senior enlisted. They also get the impression that officers get away with things that enlisted get punished for.
Some of these things are true. Being me, I had to analyze why.
The answer isn’t simple, though. To some extent, the resentment that officers get away with things enlisted get punished for can be correct. But it is also true that if the offense is serious, the same act that will ruin an enlisted individual’s career will put the officer in jail. And that the same offense that will delay a promotion for an enlisted member will get an officer thrown out of the military. The level of responsibility between the tiers is different.
The thing is, as I pointed out, the labor tier is easily replaceable. Training isn’t that difficult, the tasks aren’t that difficult. 95% of the world, or more, can do it. The separation of tiers into labor, middle management, and leadership isn’t intelligence, it isn’t ability, and it isn’t even education. It’s about effort, risk, and preparation.
Anyone can enter the labor force. Just show up and ask. They always need labor.
To get to middle management, though, you have to work for a number of years and be the best of the labor. You are chosen by the leaders to be a crew chief based on standing out. That means you need to put in some extra effort, and you risk having that extra effort wasted if you aren’t chosen, but that’s about it.
Labor gets paid for what they do. They do the work, they make the goods, but how well they do really doesn’t have a huge impact on the future of the organization. If someone does their job badly, they will be replaced. But they’ll be given a bunch of chances to fix their issues first.
And the laborer can screw around for years before deciding to try for middle management, and then they are judged based on what they do at that point. Admittedly, for the most part…there are times where egregious past behavior will carry over, but most of the time, if you make a change, you are judged based on having made the change.
The leadership tier, however, is different.
First, you must apply to join the leadership tier, and they don’t accept everyone. That means you have to first figure out they are looking for, and then acquire those attributes early, while the labor tier is taking it easy and enjoying their paycheck on the weekend. Then, if accepted, you are being watched from the beginning. As more people have recognized leadership tier is the way to a good life (and as the quality of life at the labor level has, if not actually declined, then at least fallen behind the leadership tier), competition has increased and the Zero Tolerance for Screw-ups factor has increased. In leadership, you are held responsible for everything those under you do, good and bad. You are expected to lead, and fix problems before anyone above you in the leadership tier hears about it.
As you rise, you are able to take credit for your increasing middle management and labor force output, but you are also held responsible for any of their problems. And you are sometimes scape-goated for even normal or unavoidable failures.
If you do everything correct, avoid any blunders at all, work extra hours beyond the 40 hours/week (minus break time) that is all that is demanded of labor, you might get promoted to the middle tier of leadership, and even the executive tier.
At the executive tier, you are held responsible for the performance of the organization, regardless of competition, government, the strength of the economy, the declining of the market, etc.
That’s why CEOs get paid so much: there are so few people who can qualify, because too many people have one stain or another on their record that means they are an unacceptable choice to be in the executive tier. And so the stress and pressures make that level of pay necessary.
Sure, you’re saying right now, I’ll take that pressure for half that kind of money.
I’m sure you would. But were you prescient enough to make the sacrifices and choices early enough in life to be on an Executive Leadership track?
And that’s where most people disqualify themselves. To them, it was more important to have freedom, to have weekends off, to get paid for overtime and/or to not work overtime in the first place.
By “them”, of course, I include me. As a young officer, already behind the 8-ball for executive leadership by being more than a decade older than other officers of the same rank, I was unwilling to “play the game” of getting face time with the commander, or of picking my assignments based on what would work best for my career. No, I had to think about what jobs were interesting, or where I wanted to live.
I’d call myself stupid for that, but it isn’t, really. It was just a choice. Because (write this down): There are always more qualified people for a job/position then there are jobs/positions available.
It is exhausting to put your career first. You have to sacrifice so much to do it. Most people don’t even realize when they are self-eliminating for top-tier life opportunities. I think this is because I think there is little to no effort made in our “education” system to teach people how the world really works. We tell kids “you can be anything you want to be” and then we don’t take even the first step in teaching them how to achieve those dreams.
We can tell kids they can be anything they want to be by holding up role models, and ignoring (or even concealing) the survivorship bias aspect of who gets to be an astronaut, or CEO of Citibank.
All this may seem obvious, but too few really understand this, and my evidence for that “too few” assertion is not just the resentment of enlisted for officers, but also in the continued existence of Socialism (and Democratic Socialism) as a philosophy.
Socialism recognizes that the tangible value is created in the labor tier, but then concludes that this gives the labor tier power that they are forgoing or being cheated out of.
Which is stupid. The minute you being making decisions about labor, product, etc., you aren’t in the labor tier anymore, you’re leadership. And you there’s a broad pyramid there: it’s easy for 3-4 people to make decisions about the number, color, and type of widget you’re making, or if the style of service provided needs to go after a different market share. It is impossible for the 300, or 3,000, or 300,000 labor tier individuals to make a decision on that without it being a 300,001-legged sack race.
The only thing Socialism accomplishes is letting its advocates jump to leadership tier without the experience or ability to be good at it.
Anyway, if you already knew the basics of the three tiers, I hope I at least gave you some new implications to think about on this topic.
And from there, explain exactly how Mueller’s investigation is that exact same tactic. Explain how it started to investigate collusion with Russia, discovered it in Hillary’s campaign, and ignored it. Trump can, and should, explain clearly that the Democrats are pushing a double standard, that their objections are purely to the person, not to the actions.
Moreover, he should hold another talk at some point to explain a POTUS limitations in his role in managing the economy. That no one can control economic cycles, but taxing, regulation, and debt policy are boosts or drags on the economy. He could thoroughly explain, with examples, that we should focus on policy and policy outcome rather than Cult of Personality views. And he should do it now while the economy is good and he can still take credit for creating the current excellent business environment with the tax cuts and de-regulation.
That way, when/if Democrats gain enough power to raise taxes and impose regulations, and the economy suffers, some people (only some, but that’s better than what’s going on now) will connect the dots and weaken their support for Democrat politicians.
In short, he should give more public addresses like this most recent one, and promulgate the conservative argument, daring the MSN to challenge it. They’ll stumble just like Schumer & Pelosi did.
And it would be the first time 30% of America has heard a conservative argument.
Recently, I wrote this piece to praise a book that I found to be extremely useful in both writing and life.
I’ve been thinking about it more, and I think the book misses on two points, when it comes to writing.
First, it insists that the misbelief your character is clinging to should be the cause of an imminent problem that the main character can no longer ignore. Having thought about it a few more days in the context of my own planned story, I think this might not be necessary.
In my own case, the main character wants to gain some local fame for another talent, in hopes that he will then be popular, and being popular, he will get his friends back. This is a misbelief, but I think he could actually go his whole life without this being a crippling misunderstanding. Moreover, I want this story to start when he’s 16, for a number of reasons, and I just don’t see how this misbelief could be a crisis at that age.
Instead, the talent that he finds (magic-based martial arts) is going to cause the crisis, as he catches the attention of powers that guard the magic jealously.
Likewise, Luke’s belief that he is stuck in a backwater of the Galaxy and that an exciting adventure is what he wants is what actually kinda keeps him from dying immediately at the hands of the Empire. It is a misbelief, but it drives the story and it is actually his hubris (in combination with a friend realizing that Friendship is Magic) that saves the Rebellion from destruction.
OMG. Star Wars is a My Little Pony movie.
I’m going to forget I ever said that.
The second problem is perhaps not a real problem.
The assertion of the book is that every story should be a character story on some level. On first reading, I found that compelling, and embraced it. But with another few days’ of thought and trying out this hypothesis on books and movies I’ve enjoyed, I think I’ve thought of at least one exception:
This was a very compelling and moving story, and not just because it was a visual spectacle. We *knew* the outcome, and it was still worth watching.
But there wasn’t any misbelief on display by the main character.
In fact, I could point out that the movie has some significant problems in its storytelling. In retrospect, the main character isn’t the main character, and really isn’t much of a protagonist. He does his job, but he never really makes any choices (the main character should be the person who has the most freedom to choose/act, and has the most impact from his choices/actions). That story would probably have been even more compelling if told from Rone’s perspective, or even Tonto’s. Or the CIA Mission Chief.
And maybe it is still a good story because it is a true story. Dunno. I need to think on it a little more.
Another exception is “10 Cloverfield Lane”. I think that is a good story, but the misbelief that drives the story is not the main character’s. But the main character *is* the one whose choices and actions drive the story. It’s a very good story.
Interestingly, “Orcs!” (2011) *is* a story where a main character has to confront a misbelief that has been holding him back his entire life to that point. This thought is going to inspire another post. Just sayin’
Anyway, if the point of the writing book was not that everyone story must be a character story, but rather that it is just one excellent and time-tested way to develop a compelling and memorable story, well, I can’t argue with that.
So to the extent that I said that every story *is* a character story, I’m wrong. There are plenty of good stories that don’t focus on character development.
However, if your story idea is just “meh”, or if, like me, you find your stories bogging down and lacking in drive, you should still consider using the character development elements of “misbelief” and “resistance to change until forced by life to do it” to supercharge your writing. Making your story a character story can’t be wrong, it just might not be 100% necessary.
But in life, I think the point is character development: yours. The point of the writing book is that people usually don’t change until circumstances in life force them into a costly re-evaluation of their paradigms, and that we tell stories to give people a chance to make changes in their lives *before* their misbeliefs force a crisis. So as you read the book to help your writing, consider your own beliefs, and your own troubles in life, and try to identify which are the misbeliefs causing your troubles. You might be able to make a change and have a better life before the troubles become disasters.
I subscribed to Book Bub. Every day they send me reduced price and free digital downloads. A lot of the books are crap, but hey: free ebooks! Every once in a while, a cheap book will catch my attention.
I can’t tell you everything about the book, because that would be stealing from the author.
See, I’ve been writing, and studying writing, for a long time. I know lots of the techniques, in theory: Start with an opening that grabs the reader, format your story based on its type in the MICE categorization (Milieu, Idea, Character, Event), escalate the stakes, etc.
But these are all techniques to make writing better. None of these things really helped me understand how to *write*.
And, sure, you can just come up with a character, and an idea, and keep adding words until you resolve the problem and it’s around novel length. You might actually end up with something good that way. Many people have done it.
But that’s not the way to bet. And you’d be taking your chances on catching that lightning in a bottle again on subsequent novels.
So for me, I have a dozen story ideas. I can come up with a story idea a week, and have no idea how to develop it. I’ve got a character, a theme, an idea, and a hook. And it goes nowhere.
Moreover, I want to write a story that moves people. I want to write a good *story*, not just a narrative in which cool things happen.
This book gave me the key.
What’s more interesting, is it added a significant point to my personal life philosophy, and particularly helpful in trying to teach/raise/mentor my kids.
That concept is: everyone has misbeliefs. Everyone has events in their past that they learned the wrong lesson, and they held onto it, and when it was challenged, they continued to follow the misbelief even though it was no longer appropriate, but they continued to survive, and to their psyche, that proved it worked so they clung to it even more tightly.
Everyone has these issues.
And that’s what makes a good story so compelling. We are hard-wired to resist change. We only change when we have no other choice, when we realize that continuing on our present course will cause disaster. And while we hopefully can think our way through the future minefields and change before we need to simply because we have the wisdom to see it will improve our lives, most of the time we just don’t.
It takes a traumatic event, one in which our old coping mechanism will clearly make the trauma into a disaster, before we finally admit that maybe, just maybe, we should change.
A compelling story lets us live that traumatic event vicariously. It helps us learn lessons without having to go through the pain ourselves.
This book teaches you to ask questions, and how to find the choice morsels that will supercharge your stories that are hidden in the answers you give. It encourages writing exercises that will unlock depths in your characters.
I haven’t even finished the book, and I haven’t even done the exercises, and a short story that has been stuck for months is now unstuck, and the character is now vivid and lifelike, and has reasons to act.
It also has enriched my ideas for my first novel. I knew the protagonist wanted to be more well-known/popular in his school for something besides being a good impressionist/mimic. And from there, he finds magic-based martial arts.
But from this book, I learned/decided that just a few years earlier, he had a group of good friends, and he thought he was the center of it, but then the one popular friend moved away and the group fell apart, to the point that some of his friends were now rivals and enemies. So he has the misbelief that if he just becomes more popular, he will have friends again, and maybe even get his old gang back together. And he thinks having an admirable skill will make him popular.
Instead, he needs to realize that magic has a cost, and popularity is elusive and not based on talent. It is his struggle against this reality that will drive much of the plot forward, including bullying of and by various former friends, and becoming a bully in trying to stop bullying.
And this is just from reading through the book, without actually doing the brainstorming and writing of specific past events that help you finalize these decisions.
The thing is, all these elements were already present in my head. But I didn’t know how they fit together in the protagonist to drive the story. Now I do.
And now I have additional reasonable arguments to convince my kids that although they crave being loved for who they are, trying to teach them more advanced adult standards isn’t rejecting who they are, but helping them overcome and eliminate their misbeliefs before they become a crisis.
The additional reason I’m convinced this is the key I’ve been searching for is in reading books, watching TV shows, etc., I can *see* how the misbeliefs and coping strategies of characters drive the narrative in great stories as diverse as the Man in the High Castle (first two seasons), Groundhog Day, Star Wars, Chuck, Flash Forward, the Mucker, a buttload of Terry Pratchett books, etc. In fact, the reason the Man in the High Castle Season 3 isn’t as good as the first two seasons is that they’ve gotten away from that character depth and drive that they had earlier. Now, pretty much only John Smith has that arc, and the series is the worse for it. But still pretty good. It’s why Orphan Black got boring. It’s why The Walking Dead lost its way. It’s why The Walking Dead was so compelling.
I got the book for $1.99. I probably wouldn’t have bought it for $10. But having purchased it, I think this book is well worth the full price. Highly recommended. For your personal understanding of life and yourself, as well as to boost your writing.
I received an email yesterday, requesting I post this letter. So here you are:
This year, at a client’s Christmas party, we were challenged to “Pay It Forward” – we were all given a $50 bill, and told to change someone’s life. It’s an incredibly hard task. It seems easy enough, just give it to charity. Can you change someone’s life that way? Collectively, sure. I tried a lot of different things. I was shocked at how HARD it is to find someone to take your money. I found wishlists. I tried to fulfill them. But then couldn’t get callbacks to go and drop off what they wanted. I already do Angel Tree. I already buy toys for kids who need them.
But life changing? That’s a big job.
I finally donated the money we were given, along with some extra, to buy 750 meals for those in need in my area. We had a deadline on the Pay It Forward, and I had to do something.
Life changing? No. Day changing.
But there has something that has haunted me for over 30 years. A person I have wronged. I think about her quite often, to be honest, and wonder how she is doing. No way of making it right. Probably not a chance in Hades that she would ever answer the phone, if I even had her number.
I bullied her.
As a kid, I pretended to be her friend, and then spilled and laughed about her secrets. I made horrendous remarks on her appearance for laughs. For 13 years. She found out in 8th grade. I remember the day.
I know what you’re probably thinking. Believe me, I’ve thought worse about myself. But I have to forgive myself now, and not hold onto it. I chose her as my victim because she had a great father. Mine was into abusing me – sexually, verbally, and physically. HER father went to her events, was fun at sleepovers, loved his kids. So I chose her.
When I was thinking about changing lives, I thought – that’s the one thing I’d like to fix. In my life, and in hers. And maybe if I share this story, I can change yours, too.
If you have ever been bullied, take this note, and let me apologize for them too. There are sometimes stories behind a bully. Nothing makes what I did right. Nothing. But find forgiveness – for yourself. That’s life changing.
Saturday, she will receive a box from me – with goodies and this note. And I hope she forgives me. And I hope I forgive myself for Christmas.
“There will never be a good excuse for what I did to you when we were kids. There’s no way around it. I bullied you.
You were a wonderful, kind person to me. You didn’t deserve what I gave you. I’ll always regret that. I could go into the “whys”, but that’s not what is important. What is important to me, is that you know this – I am terribly sorry, I always have been, and you’ve been in my prayers for decades.
I hope you have the happy life you so richly deserve.”
That’s pretty heavy. And pretty brave. Admirable, as well.
We all do stupid things. We all hurt people. Most of us have a cruel streak; some of us even try to eliminate it, or at least suppress it.
The person who wrote this was a child when bullying. I agree: that doesn’t excuse it. the actions described in this missive were clearly wrong. But we have to forgive ourselves as we forgive others. It is very nearly as wrong to live with the guilt of this for so long, as it was to cause the harm in the first place.
I’m not a Christian. I lost my faith. Interestingly, I lost my faith due to my musings on sin. Too long and complicated to explain here. The salient point is I still spend time musing on the nature of sin.
Sin can be defined as any time we treat others (or ourselves) as objects. Sin can also be defined as the damage we do to others.
Sin begets sin. The father of the writer sinned, and cause damage that led to additional cruelty, i.e., more sin. And I’m sure that the recipient of the bullying acted out her pain and sinned against others.
We all sin. There is not one single person on this planet that has not sinned, and does not continually sin. The burden of our sins would be crushing, if we don’t learn grace and forgiveness.
Healing cannot begin until after forgiveness has had its impact. It shouldn’t be cheap, or easy. But I think the obvious anguish displayed in this letter makes it clear forgiveness in this case could be neither.
Whether or not the victim is comforted, whether or not the victim forgives, good was done here.
Would that we all had the courage to face up to our own sins.