Lifetip 3: Accept the pecking order

The third post in my series of Lifetips will be dedicated to the benefits of hierarchy. It is actually a very improbable lesson to ever be coming from a Dutch person’s mouth, as we tend to have very little respect for these things.

Then again, maybe countries that actually understand and respect the implications of hierarchical structures wouldn’t need this lesson in the first place. Perhaps they could, however, explain it better than I (or Rutger Bregman, who brought it up in his April 2019 podcast episode) can.

Bregman poses that progress may not be possible in a purely egalitarian atmosphere. Hierarchy is needed in order to move forward on the long run.

The fact that western societies have increasingly been promoting “nice guys”, has softened our culture, as well as our politics. For our institutions however, too many nice guys is a curse. At some point, somebody needs to call ‘bullshit’, even it hurts someone’s feelings or means that all the work that has been done so far will be thrown in the bin.

An example that was given by Jesse Frederiks was a plan that journalist platform “the Correspondent” had upon its conception in regards to its compensation model. The initial plan was to let all the employees decide on the salary levels among themselves. The idea was that there would be full openness on the matter, with everybody having knowledge and insight into the division of the company’s money.

Long story short: it didn’t work.

Everybody was pretty relieved when they went back to a more traditional model, with specific people responsible for such decisions.

People that didn’t agree with the slice of the cake they ended up with, could complain about bad decision making by people elsewhere in the building and then bond over it with direct colleagues around the coffee machine (instead of having to blame them for it). Also, not having all the facts, turned out to be a relief to many.

Without hierarchy, direct colleagues would have to decide on a course of action together and battle out their differences face-to-face. This inevitably causes some friction, which makes working together increasingly difficult.

So perhaps certain positions require people who do not mind being disliked (for the greater good)?

Those at the bottom of the food chain do what they are told, without having to debate why and how.

With a person higher in rank calling the shots, foot soldiers can bond with their comrades over their shared suffering. At the end of the day the work gets done and everybody (except maybe that one guy) can go out for beers to celebrate.

In the YouTube video below Jordan Peterson (who Im not sure suffers from that Mr-Nice-Guy-complex) gives his explanation of why hierarchy is necessary and how left- and rightwing thinkers can (must?) keep the ranks from falling apart or being corrupted.

Sometimes you need an asshole to stand up, that doesn’t care if people like him or not, to get the job done. It’s OK to hate him. But recognize that you couldn’t have done it without him.

What do you think? Do you believe in an egalitarian system? Or is hierarchy really indispensable for stable community structures?

Lifetip 1: Believe in goodness

Rutger Bregman and Jesse Frederik are the hosts of my favorite Dutch podcast: de Rudi & Freddie Show. They discuss all sorts of topics, which at one point ventured into their disdain towards self help books. But, as is typical for R&F, they decided to investigate the popularity of the genre and then ended up coming up with their own list of life-improvement tips.

Rutger Bregman’s first tip, also stars in his most recent book “De meeste mensen deugen”. The title is kind of difficult to translate as there isn’t really an English equivalent for the word “deugen”. The noun “deugd” means “virtue”, and the verb means something along the lines of “to be virtuous”, but it’s used in a much more casual way than the English version makes it sound…

Someone could ask me if I’ve met my brother’s new girlfriend. My answer could then be: “Ja, ze deugt”, which is just basically three words to say that I have indeed met her and that I give her a thumbs up.

Long story short, Rutger’s newest book title translates to something along the lines of “Most people are cool”.

The accompanying tip boils down to:

Always assume good intent.

There will always be moments in life when you are not quite sure what “the other” thinks, feels or might do. When you find yourself in such a situation, you can assume the worst and start preparing (mentally) for somebody’s anger, stupidity or deceit. You can also chill out, assume all is well and nobody is out to get you.

Why would you give people the benefit of the doubt?

  • Because it is most often right.
  • Because it is less stressful
  • Because you avoid making it a self fulfilling prophecy

Rutger insists that trust is the water that we swim in. Having your trust broken (by being set up, robbed or swindled out of your money) is collateral damage. The price you pay for mistrust is not worth the amount of negative energy it brings into your life.

True story

A while ago, somebody knocked on my door. The person at the door was a stranger. He told me he lived down the street from me and that never did this kind of thing but that his sister had just been hospitalized and that he needed a couple of euro’s to fill up the tank of his scooter to go see her.

So what were my choices? I could assume the worst and let my fantasy freak me out:

  • He’s a junkie who is going to use the money to get high.
  • He’s never going to pay me back.
  • Next time he knocks he is going to rob me.

The alternative was to assume he was telling the truth and help the dude out.

In all honesty I did a bit of both: I assumed he was telling the truth, but didn’t count on seeing him or the money back ever again (even though he assured me several times he would be back the following week).

I dug through several bags and pockets to collect all the bits of change I could find (because really, who still has cash these days?) and told him it was not necessary to repay me but that he should pay it forward to somebody else some day.

So yah, I may have “lost” 4 euros. Or did I?

  • Maybe he really did come back with the money but I wasn’t home.
  • Maybe the handful of change is still being handed down to people in need, spreading kindness and smiles across the country.
  • Maybe he was really planning on coming back to rob and kill me, but changed his mind after my kindness (or when he glanced into my house and saw that my house was a trip hazard).

Hold on… That last one doesn’t sound quite right. This positive-assumption thing takes some getting used to, I guess…

Society and politics

Let’s try applying the same logic to a larger scale.

Because if we trust the people right in front of us, we can trust people a bit further away as well, can’t we? And if we do that, we can assume whole groups of people consist solely of good-intentioned folks.

What could we achieve as a society if we put full trust in each other? What would our laws look like if we weren’t always basing them on the assumption that people want to take advantage of the system?

That is some radical thinking, I’m telling you…

Trust your friendly neighborhood charlatan

Have you ever been cheated? Good! That means you put trust in someone. Keep it up!

If you haven’t been scammed at least a few times in your life you may be missing out on the good stuff by being too mistrustful.

Mind Cleanup Nov 19

The “wiggle room” I was anticipating in my previous mind cleanup didn’t fully materialize yet, but I have good hopes it is on its way (all though I do realize chilled-outness is not what Decembers are usually known for…).

Bee Family Day

November started out with a family reunion, thought out and partially organized by my dad. His health and energy level didn’t really allow him to be as involved as he might have liked, though. I did all “the online stuff”, prepared the slides for the presentations and did some of the small logistical stuff.

Because my name was at the bottom of all the invitations, confirmations and additional info I got a lot of credit for the whole day, which was nice, but perhaps not entirely justified. I just played along though. 😂

In the end, the day was a success and my dad was super happy. I met a lot of new family members and had a chance to re-evaluate some of our “typical family traits”.

After my father welcomed everyone, my aunt held a presentation about the family tree and what you can see on the My Heritage website. An uncle / cousin (several times removed) played a classical guitar piece he had composed himself. He also held a short speech about the finances of the family’s foundation that takes care of the family graves.

My hope that a third family member would come forward with some cool family stories, didn’t really come to fruition… so I decided to do it myself… which is actually atypical behavior for me… but it went well and it also means I get to strike “get better at public speaking” from my bucketlist. YAY!

Bolivia

Bolivia is the heart of South America and a notoriously complicated country. I lived there for eight years as a child and always joked with my brother that I would be the president one day, but that he had to be my front (as he was born in the country and I was not).

The current state of the country really breaks my heart. It angers me that Evo Morales clung to power in the way that he did and that he did nothing to make a smooth change of power possible. It saddens me to see the country so terribly divided (which in all truth it always kind of was).

I’d pray my heart out for Bolivia, if I believed in such things. It’s a country that has so much going for it but always relapses into self-destructive behavior.

Lines from the country’s national anthem have been ringing in my head the last few weeks (like a prayer?):

Al estruendo marcial que ayer fuera y al clamor de la guerra horroroso,
siguen hoy, en contraste armonioso, dulces himnos de paz y de unión.

The martial turmoil of yesterday and the horrible clamor of war are followed today, in harmonious contrast, by sweet hymns of peace and unity.

Vamos Bolivia, you can do it. I believe in you. I know you don’t need a white European girl telling you how to fix your shit but at least take the message in your own national anthem to heart and look up those sweet hymns of peace and unity!

Music

This new Jamie Cullum song struck a chord.

Rudi & Freddie Self Help tips

Earlier this year I heard a podcast episode from one of my favorite Dutch journalists that I have been recommending to anyone who might be (slightly) interested.

The podcast show is called the Rudi & Freddie Show, staring Rutger Bregman (Rudi) and Jesse Frederiks (Freddie). Officially they are a historian and economist but most of all, they are two smart dudes that can’t help but ask “why is that?” at every corner they turn.

Absolute facts make them suspicious and their skills as academics and modern day journalists give them the tools to disentangle the facts from the opinions, gut feelings and bullshit arguments. They don’t always agree with each other. Better even, they don’t always agree with their own (past) selves. I have tremendous respect for people that are able to admit they were wrong when presented with new facts or experiences and are willing to change.

I am sad to inform the majority of the planet that their podcasts are only available in Dutch, but if you ever needed a motivation to learn our impossible little language, being able to understand their discussions should help.

After having made fun of (the popularity of) self help books, they decided to embrace the “if you can’t beat them join them” philosophy, and come up with their own recommendations for a better life. In an episode that was posted online last April they discussed their ideas.

Starting in December I want to share a few of the R&F Self help tips. I will share one per post, perhaps continuing with the tradition with tips of my own, after the R&F ones run out.

Relevant


This is Blog 18 in my A-Z Blogseries:
Relevant

Have you heard of Rutger Bregman?

He is the Dutch dude that called out tax avoiding millionaires at Davos and then drove Tucker Carlson into a hissy fit, which sounded like this:

After he went viral twice in a relatively short period of time Bregman dedicated a podcast episode to the events (in Dutch). In the podcast he gives us an insight into the type of conversations he had with his fellow journalists in the days before and after these media moments.

We live in a time where being relevant is all about clicks, views, shares and likes. How do you go viral on social media? And how do you prevent becoming “that guy that pissed off Tucker Carlson” for the rest of your life?

Bregman’s friends and colleagues expressed their concerns to him about what releasing the Tucker Carlson video would do to Rutger Bregman’s life and career. In addition they let him know they had their doubts about whether or not it was actually helping him bring across a message, or if it was actually distracting from it.

Bregman chose to come in “with an outstretched leg”. I’m not sure if this soccer metaphor is used in English at all, but in Dutch it’s a pretty common way to describe an aggressive discussion partner.

In this particular case, Rutger Bregman took out his opponents “for the greater good” and didn’t mind the injuries he may (or may not) have inflicted on the other.

All though it worked out pretty OK for Rutger Bregman I do think it’s a pity that shock-and-awe is becoming such a common thing in conversations and debates. People feel the need to say and do extremer things each time to get a point across, which isn’t exactly good for the atmosphere.

In his podcast Bregman explains that sometimes, to be relevant, you have to choose between being likeable yet forgettable or an asshole that leaves an impression.

A difficult choice.