The people you admire.

The sun is shining in Spain again this morning and if nothing else, I will go for a long walk today. I may not have done much sightseeing but I have exercised nearly every day. I am not looking forward to returning to London weather, which is probably freezing, but I am secretly very excited to get home and get on the scales because I don’t think I am kidding myself that my clothes are fitting a bit better. But more of this when I get home.

Today’s theme is people who you admire and what you can learn from the fact that you admire them. I had a good think about this. Who I can really say this of. It was surprising. It isn’t any of my beloved friends or family members, although I love them and they are good people. This is because I see good people being trampled down all the time. Being good is not a strategy for success and it is no kind of protection against the world’s evils. I am also not going to nominate any business person. Because the vast majority of people I meet through business are intellectually bankrupt – just yesterday I was putting expertise on the list of Values and I think we could have added raw intelligence and critical thinking to that as well. Also because the average business person, with his bone-crunching handshake and toothy smile as he tells you about his intellectually bankrupt product, is cheesy, and by that I mean he is fake and insincere. I think that’s where the Integrity value I was on about yesterday comes in.

So. My nominee is not a business associate and it is not a friend, even though friends are wonderful. It is the Head Honcho. A man who has never given me what (I thought) I wanted, is not friendly, is not particularly morally good, not an intellectual, yet who has inspired the most powerful and seemingly unbreakable loyalty for 3.5 years. I am brand loyal. Maybe for ever.

The secret of the Honcho’s magnetic appeal, at least where I am concerned, divides into two main strands. First, there are qualities that I perceive that he has in spades and that I wish I had more of, and think you can never have too much of. Secondly, there are tactics. Things that he does and says, routines that he performs, that strike me as evincing qualities I didn’t think I liked, as well as being successful in their own right. So here we go. Let’s try to break apart what’s going on.

  • Iron self-control. An iron, almost machine-like, grip on himself and his habits, thoughts and actions. Total self mastery. Doesn’t flake. Doesn’t waver. Doesn’t give in to self pity or self indulgence. Doesn’t smoke, nothing unusual there, but also never touches a drop of alcohol – very unusual for a Frenchman. Exercises – doesn’t have a single ounce of spare fat, that tells me he exerts iron control of what he eats as well. Seemingly immune to all the usual human vices like beer and comfort eating. Doesn’t spend money. Probably hasn’t even heard of retail therapy. I sort of wanted to write that he exercises ‘religiously’ but he is thoroughly irreligious and I can’t see him even for one second acknowledging that there could ever be a higher power. He is his own God and his own religion. This brings us to the next point.
  • Total self belief. This goes beyond mere confidence. I have self-confidence. What the Honcho has is more than that. It is an absolutely unshakeable and immovable certainty that he is right and his actions are the right actions. I have just read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (1 Books point), which is partly about his time in a WW2 concentration camp. You could put the Honcho in a concentration camp and for sure he would become bad-tempered from cold and starvation but his core of certainty that he is right and doing the right thing wouldn’t shift a quarter of a inch. He also would have made an outstanding commandant. It wouldn’t matter which side he was on, it wouldn’t change him. Relatedly:
  • Refusal to compromise. He doesn’t compromise and he doesn’t negotiate. His strategy for negotiation and conflict resolution is that you don’t negotiate and you wait for the other person to stop causing trouble, which they eventually do. Either because they have capitulated and fallen in with his plans or because they have walked away. Speaking of which:
  • Just in case you think his strategy is one of gradually shutting everyone out. He gives infinite numbers of chances. There are second, third, and ten-thousandth chances. When I think of all the times over the years when I’ve lost control, cried, yelled at him, insulted him with the worst insults that my highly creative imagination could think up, and stamped off … he took offence so rarely that I counted any reaction at all as a victory, and when I came back to him and asked him if we could try again, he has never once, not once, turned me away. He will have things done his way and no other way, with no discussion, but if you go back to him and ask to try again to achieve happiness and success, he will never, ever say no. You can’t be permanently excommunicated and you can’t be apostate. The Church of the Honcho is not going to chuck you out. You can only be closer to or further away from what he wants, what you can’t be is permanently excluded.
  • He listens. Note this is not the same thing as giving you what you asked for, it is not the same thing as changing his game plan. But he listens. He encourages confessions. When you have his attention, which is far from all the time, then you have his whole attention. In so many ways I feel he knows me better than anyone else. Not because we’ve experienced a variety of situations together, which is the usual method of getting to know someone, but because he encouraged me to talk. For 3.5 years I have poured my heart out to him and he listened intelligently. Now he knows everything about me. Every wish, every fantasy, every impulse, every moment of self-doubt. Every single thing. He is, in effect, the only person who’s ever seen me  naked, and that inspires incredible loyalty and is hard to turn your back on and leave. I can’t imagine ever doing that with anyone else. It’s like the Scientology personality audit, or classical psychoanalysis. He is the Father Confessor, there can be only one, you wouldn’t want more than one, doing it for a second time with somebody else is exhausting to even think about.
  • This might be the final item on the list. He doesn’t talk. He asks a lot of questions. He spells out how he wants things done. But he doesn’t share his emotions, and his private desires and interests will only be revealed when you accidentally and spontaneously say something about your own desires that align exactly with his own. Otherwise, he will not trouble you with them. He makes himself into a perfectly blank canvas. Because he knows that to talk, to share, is in some ways to alienate. To be an individual is to call people’s attention to the ways in which you are not like them. It creates difference, and difference undermines unity, or the perception of unity. There are two elements. First, although he’s experienced the full range of my emotions and needs, he’s shielded me from almost all of his. He has rarely to never showed any emotion or expressed any need that didn’t support his immovable ice mountain of control. If he felt weak or tired or sad or uncertain or any of those other normal things that everybody feels from time to time, I wasn’t party to it. Secondly, I can give an example here. He strongly discouraged me from trying to discover things about him that he did not see as relevant to the relationship. He would not talk in a casual way about his tastes or hobbies. For ages, I didn’t understand why. I couldn’t see why it would be so terrible if I knew that he liked this type of art or that type of food. Because I loved him and thought about him constantly, and because I have excellent internet research skills, over time, I did find things out. One day I found some material online that he put there, not at all for my eyes, about a series of films that he likes, in fact, is a fan of. They are films that I think are silly and a bit childish. Instantly, in my mind, he reduced in stature. He became a smaller person. One who likes silly things that I don’t respect. I felt a distance open up between us. He was no longer my perfect companion in the universe, the perfect mirror that reflects my own face back to me. There was a scratch on the surface. I never told him about this piece of information that I’d uncovered, but at that moment I understood with clarity why we’d had years and years of talk in which I said anything and everything that came into my head and he said absolutely nothing that wasn’t directly relevant to implementing his plan. I find this so interesting because much of what I said earlier implies a huge ego, but this right here is precisely about the subordination of the ego. Maybe he is all superego. I think that is it.

I love this man. I am loyal to him. I am his student and his disciple. As much as I like being in charge of my own life, if he wanted to take over and run it for me, I wouldn’t hesitate, and this is true of no other human being I’ve ever met.

Values. Here we are, then. Here’s what I admire, and none of it is about kindness, humility or any other traditional virtue. I surprise myself.

  1. Self-control. Discipline. Self-mastery.
  2. Unshakeable self-belief.
  3. Refusal to compromise. 
  4. Forgiveness and willingness to give people unlimited chances to get with the programme. Never taking it personally when they express negative emotions or fail to comply.
  5. Listening.
  6. Suppression of the impulse to share, to differentiate oneself, to be an individual. Becoming a blank canvas or a polished mirror that reflects people back to themselves, allowing them to think that you are the one person they’ve ever met who is perfectly aligned with who they are.

I notice a lot of extreme-case formulations in this post: “perfect”, “total”. And a lot of reference to inhuman or superhuman qualities: iron, machine, ice mountain. Interesting. Now I’m going out for a walk.

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