Lludd and Llefelys
“Lludd and Llefelys, one of the medieval Welsh tales collected in the Mabinogion, is a vision of the internet. In fact, it describes the internet twice. Here, a terrible plague has settled on Britain: the arrival of the Coraniaid, an invincible supernatural enemy. What makes the Coraniaid so dangerous is their incredibly sharp hearing. They can hear everything that’s said, everywhere on the island, even a whisper hundreds of miles away. They already know the details of every plot against them. People have stopped talking; it’s the only way to stay safe. To defeat them, the brothers Lludd and Llefelys start speaking to each other through a brass horn, which protects their words. Today, we’d call it encryption. But this horn contains a demon; whatever you speak into it, the words that come out are always cruel and hostile. This medium turns the brothers against each other; it’s a communications device that makes them more alone. In the story, the brothers get rid of the demon by washing out the horn with wine. I’m not so sure we can do that today: the horn and its demon are one and the same thing.”Sam Kriss, “The Internet is Made of Demons.” Damage Magazine. April 21, 2022.
The Good Guy/Bad Guy Myth
“Less discussed is the historic shift that altered the nature of so many of our modern retellings of folklore, to wit: the idea that people on opposite sides of conflicts have different moral qualities, and fight over their values. That shift lies in the good guy/bad guy dichotomy, where people no longer fight over who gets dinner, or who gets Helen of Troy, but over who gets to change or improve society’s values. Good guys stand up for what they believe in, and are willing to die for a cause. This trope is so omnipresent in our modern stories, movies, books, even our political metaphors, that it is sometimes difficult to see how new it is, or how bizarre it looks, considered in light of either ethics or storytelling…
When I talked with Andrea Pitzer, the author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps (2017), about the rise of the idea that people on opposite sides of conflicts have different moral qualities, she told me: ‘Three inventions collided to make concentration camps possible: barbed wire, automatic weapons, and the belief that whole categories of people should be locked up.’ When we read, watch and tell stories of good guys warring against bad guys, we are essentially persuading ourselves that our opponents would not be fighting us, indeed they would not be on the other team at all, if they had any loyalty or valued human life. In short, we are rehearsing the idea that moral qualities belong to categories of people rather than individuals. It is the Grimms’ and von Herder’s vision taken to its logical nationalist conclusion that implies that ‘categories of people should be locked up’.”-Marina Benjamin, “The good guy/bad guy myth.” Aeon. January 29, 2018
Criticism as Other People’s Stories
Stories are explanations of the world we tell ourselves. They are filled with unnecessary detail, and by extension, falsehoods. Getting involved with stories is how we give meaning to our lives, reenforce our ego, and project that ego – our brand if you will – out in the wider world.
If the above is true, then it also means that when someone makes a criticism of you – if they say: you are X, then they are trying to hire you as an extra in their movie. In some cases, you may even be cast in a main role – as the villain, the victim, the obstacle to be overcome, colleague, etc.
But, we are not extras or actors in someone else’s movie. We are not even stars of our own production. The stories we tell ourselves are narrative fiction, a reduction of our experience to an easily understandable illusion. It’s a filter, designed to create a certain look that doesn’t reflect reality. It’s our ego taking control.
If we want to get to lived experience, we have to break free of the plots created in our head. The easiest first place to do that is to break free from the plots in other people’s heads.
When someone says something to you, the most likely thing they are doing is projecting their own story. They are telling you how you fit in to their story. You may be a personification of some trait they don’t like about themselves, or the opposite. You may be an important piece in making their fiction work, or a bit player. But, no matter what role you are assigned by someone else, you always have the choice about whether to play the part.
Some parts have useful lessons to teach us, and we are obligated to play them by our circumstances. But, even then, you have the choice in whether to believe in the part. It’s one thing to know you are an actor in a fiction. It’s something else to think the role we play is our life.
Most of us think the stories we tell ourselves or the parts we play in other people’s stories are our lives. We need to pause these productions, see them for what they are, and if necessary, play our roles. But, play it knowing it’s a role. It makes all the difference.
“Twine is an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories.”–https://twinery.org/
“A woman in India was upset that her son was eating too much sugar. No matter how much she chided him, he continued to satisfy his sweet tooth. Totally frustrated, she decided to take her son to see the local sahdu (holy man).
She approached the sadhu respectfully and said, “Sir, my son eats too much sugar. It is not good for his health. Would you please advise him to stop eating it?”
The sadhu listened to the woman carefully, turned, and spoke to her son, “Go home and come back in two weeks.”
The woman was perplexed. She took the boy by the hand and went home.
Two weeks later, she returned, boy in hand. The sadhu motioned for them to come forward. He looked directly at the boy and said, “Boy, you should stop eating sugar. It is not good for your health.”
The boy nodded and promised he would not continue this habit any longer.
The boy’s mother turned to the sadhu and asked, “Why didn’t you tell him that two weeks ago when I brought him here to see you?”
The sadhu smiled and said, “Mother, two weeks ago, I was still eating sugar myself.”
Moral: If you are going to give advice, take it yourself first.—Adapted from preilly, “Gandhi Story.”
h/t Tim Ferris. I changed it from Gandhi to a sadhu because it makes better sense to me. There are village elders, sadhus, etc. all over India that are respected in their communities enough to be a stand-in for Gandhi.
“The truth is that charisma is a learned behavior, a skill to be developed in much the same way that we learned to walk or practice vocabulary when studying a new language.”-Bryan Clark, “What Makes People Charismatic, and How You Can Be, Too” The New York Times. August 15, 2019.
Argues that charisma is presence, power and warmth. When we focus on other people, they tend to notice our attention and the fact that we find them worth noticing. People like to be noticed, and they tend to like people that notice them.
Power seems to be used in the sense of confidence. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. But, most people don’t have too much confidence. They have too little. As a result, the end up doing a lot of complaining: about their lack of agency, about the unsatisfactory things in their lives, etc. No one wants to hear about other people’s problems. Everyone has plenty of their own.
Warmth. In a cold, cruel world, be someone else’s sunshine. Be everyone’s sunshine, if you can. Some people seem like they are born that way. Even if you weren’t, who doesn’t appreciate the effort?
Suggestions for improving your charisma? Learn to tell stories. Our stories make us relatable and telling them to others requires focus, confidence and the vulnerability of sharing ourselves with others, which if it isn’t warmth, it’s in the neighborhood.