Corey and Lori's Quest Log

Corey and Lori’s Quest Log

Posts Tagged ‘Heroes’

Let Bartlet Be Bartlet: Seven Things I Learned by Watching The West Wing

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Lori and I have rarely watch television, but a few shows are worth re-watching. Currently at the top of our list is The West Wing, a political drama that ran on network television between 1999 and 2006. The U.S. President and his staff have their offices in the West wing of the White House in Washington, D.C., hence the series title.

The West WingThe West Wing series gives us an intimate look at the lives and work of fictional President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet and his senior staff. These people are true believers. They helped Bartlet win the election and now serve as his staff because they are passionate about creating meaningful change in the world. Every member of the West Wing staff is a true Hero. They also have an outspoken liberal agenda and often have trouble convincing Congressmen and Senators to vote for their proposed legislation.

Here are seven important lessons I picked up from watching the series:

Let Bartlet be Bartlet

As a Democratic President with a hostile Republican Congress, Jed Bartlet often had to choose between doing what he believed to be right versus doing what seemed to be politically expedient. Whenever his staff advised him to do the latter, the President came across as weak, and he lost ground in the polls. When they let him stand up for his beliefs, even though he made political enemies, the public respected him more. The staff realized that they had to let Bartlet be himself – a man of strong principles and vision.

Be yourself. You may compromise on minor issues and where you don’t have a strong opinion, but when it comes to the things that really matter, say what you mean and mean what you say. You might not win every battle, but make sure you fight passionately for the most important ones.

Great Results come from Really Hard Work

On The West Wing, the senior White House staff work from early morning until late at night nearly every day, even on most weekends. Like Alice in Through the Looking Glass, they need to run as fast as they can just to stay in one place, and twice as fast to get anything done. The President and his staff don’t just show up for work each day; they put everything they have into their work.

Important work doesn’t do itself. If you want extraordinary results, you have to put in much more than ordinary effort to achieve them. Creative work is no exception – Images of writers frequently show them near a wastebasket overflowing with the words that didn’t quite work. Today we do it digitally, but we still discard thousands of words and multiple drafts before a finished article hits the Web, book, or magazine.

The computer game industry is known for a lack of “work-life balance”. Programmers and other developers regularly spend 50 hours or more in the office every week. They don’t always do it just because management orders them to work overtime. They do it because they love what they are doing. I know a Nurse Practitioner who works equally long hours at her job. Great results come from people who go the extra mile to make them great. They do it because they care.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Some of the great crises in The West Wing come out of a few careless words. Some of these are jokes, others simply ordinary phrases that seem to take on additional meaning out of context. One plot point hinges on whether the Press Secretary asked the President, “Is there anything else I need to know?” or “Is there anything else I should know?” Other stories become blown out of proportion when one of the staffers makes an offhand joke about them.

I love making word plays and jokes, and sometimes that backfires. Beware of joking about a topic that someone else takes very seriously. They are likely to take your words as mockery or insults. Think about what you say before you say it. People rarely have much perspective or sense of humor about the things that consider important. Their agenda is not yours; you may need to do a little role-playing to empathize with their position.

Making a Mistake is not the End of the World

The West Wing staff members are really smart people, but they make plenty of mistakes. One character is an alcoholic, another falls in love with a prostitute, and even the President has secrets. When some of the staff are pressured to resign, the President supports them. He knows that loyalty, intelligence, and commitment to doing good count for more than anyone’s past mistakes. As a result, they remain fiercely loyal to the President and each other when events challenge them.

QuoteWe all make mistakes. Most of them are trivial, but some of them hurt other people or ourselves. As the saying goes, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” If you want to live a valuable life, you must take many risks. Pretty much by definition, you will fail at some of them. When you make a mistake, admit it and move on to the next challenge. When you see someone make a mistake, accept it, help out if you can, but don’t dwell on it. If you aren’t making any mistakes, you aren’t doing enough with your life.

Character Counts

Any time the West Wing characters try to compromise their ideals to win, they end up losing. They succeed only by having absolute integrity and passion for their beliefs. The opposition might break the unwritten rules and use underhanded tactics, but heroes need to be above reproach and fight for the things that matter.

That seems a little unfair, but it balances out. Good guys get some compensating advantages. Heroes have the strength of their conviction and usually more support from others than the villains get. It doesn’t matter if you are liberal or conservative. People with integrity and the strength of conviction are the ones who get things done. Besides, every time you cheat, you burn a little hole in your brain and soul; do it enough and you will forget what you’re fighting for. You will also lose any trust or respect from the people around you.

Just because You are Passionate does not give You the Right to be Arrogant

Some of the toughest fights the White House staff face are against members of their own party. A Black inner-city Congressman votes against a gun control bill because it is poorly written and he believes that passing it will make it harder to pass stronger legislation.

When your friends stop supporting you, it’s time to listen to them and find out why. Stop and re-examine your beliefs from time to time. Do you still accept the premises that led to them? Don’t be arrogant. There are a lot of other really smart people out there, and you can’t learn from them if you are too busy making your own point over and over.

Learn to Listen

There are very few real villains in the world. Most people truly believe in what they say and do. The West Wing staff maintains a tradition of opening their doors to the public on “Big Block of Cheese Day” each year. The staffers think that listening to “crackpots” is a waste of their time, but many of the visitors have important things to say. Each is passionate about his or her message, and some of their ideas really matter.

Every meaningful decision has social, political, environmental, economic, and other issues. You might be focusing on one consequence of the decision, but others might consider another side more important. Tax the rich to feed the poor? Sounds great; most of them can afford it. It doesn’t sound so great if you’ve worked harder than everyone else you know for 50 years to get that money. Or if the tax causes your company to downsize, costing jobs for people who are willing and able to work. It still might be a good idea, but it is no longer simple and obvious. That is the origin of most political conflict – Each party focuses on one side of an issue and fails to consider other aspects. The law of unintended consequences tells us that issues are rarely as simple as we think they are. We have to stop, listen, and learn when others have things to say – friends and opponents alike.

Lessons from West Wing

West WingWe can all learn from the lessons of The West Wing. The White House staffers are Heroes trying to do what is right in the pressure cooker of the political arena. They need to find ways to get Congress to pass good laws, and they need to get and keep public support for the President and his ideas. We all face similar challenges in making friends and in doing our work competently and ethically. When we hear messages of prejudice and hate, we must find ways to answer them even when it is uncomfortable or dangerous to speak up. That is the only way we can make a positive difference in our work and in the world.

What’s Your Type?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Back in the mid-to-late 80’s, when Corey worked on the Atari ST, we looked forward to reading articles by David Small. David invented the Magic Sac, a device that allowed Atari ST owners to run Macintosh software on their ST systems. One of David’s articles talked about the Myers-Briggs personality classification system and a wonderful book called Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates. Please Understand Me explains the system and includes a test to find your own classification.

Reading that article gave us a fascination for classifying people and fictional characters by the Myers-Briggs system. Lori even keeps notes on the personality type of each of her D&D characters. So it’s not a coincidence that there is a close correspondence between the character classes in The School for Heroes and some of the M-B types.

Here’s a quick explanation of the system. There are four scales that, combined, measure personality. People can fall anywhere on each scale, but for simplicity are classified according to the endpoints. (This bothers Corey, who prefers “fuzzy” measurement systems, but that might just be because he’s a strong “P” on the Myers-Briggs scale.) Um, right, distraction. Let’s try this again. Here are the scales:

  • Introvert < ————————————> Extravert
  • iNtuitive <————————————> Sensing
  • Thinking <————————————> Feeling
  • Judging <————————————> Perceiving
  • Introvert vs. Extravert

    The Myers-Briggs system defines an Introvert as someone for whom social interaction (such as at a party) drains energy, and an Extravert as someone whose energy level goes up when they’re surrounded by strangers.

    Intuitive vs Sensory

    An Intuitive person is one who is interested in meaning and ideas, while a Sensory person prefers more concrete things they can sense.

    Thinking vs Feeling

    Thinking people value logic and a scientific approach to knowledge, while Feeling people care more about emotions and art.

    Judging vs Perceivers

    Judging people like order, structure, and system, while Perceiving people prize flexibility and spontaneity. Judgers are happiest once a decision has been made or a task completed, while Perceivers are happier when the task is in progress and the decisions are still open.

    Personality types are abbreviated by the first letter of the word (or “N” for “iNtuitive”, since “Introvert” stole the “I”). A person with an ESTJ personality tends to be good at getting things done, but may lack flexibility. They like to work and be with other people, deal with concrete things, solve problems by logic, and finish tasks. That person’s opposite, an INFP, tends to be a dreamer, perhaps an artist or writer. They are uncomfortable around strangers (but very loyal once they get to know someone). They think a lot about ideas hidden meanings, feelings, and emotions. They prefer to philosophize about an issue and take their time thinking about it than jumping to a conclusion that might be wrong.

    Personality Prevails

    Interesting, the personality types are not created equal. With 16 archetypes to choose from, some are much more “popular” than others. In the U.S., 52% of the population are ES types (ESTJ, ESTP, ESFJ, or ESFP – each about 13%), 24% are IS, and 20% EN, leaving only 4% for the IN categories. (Last time we looked, Corey was INTP and Lori was INFJ. Guess which of us is better at finishing projects? ) People do seem to shift categories over time; Corey used to be more Extraverted, but has definitely moved to the Introverted side of the equation over the last 15-20 years. The most critical differences are between the four base pairs – SJ, SP, NF, and NT. The E/I scale seems to be a little less important. If you’re Intuitive, the biggest difference is between Thinkers and Feelers, whereas among Sensing personalities, whether they are Judging or Perceiving is the most important difference.

    There’s a lot more to the system, particularly about where conflicts are likely to occur between people of conflicting personality types. An ESFJ manager of an INTP programmer will probably think the programmer is indecisive and doesn’t finish tasks on time. That programmer might think her manager is illogical and often makes hasty, bad decisions. By understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your family and co-workers, you can better understand their thought processes and why they act the way they do.

    Heroic Archetypes

    What about our school class archetypes? We tried to create a balanced system that reflects that not all heroes have the same personality. We want people to be able to discover who they really are

    Warriors > Sensory Judgers

    Warriors tend to fit the SJ personality type. They like direct action and straightforward decisions. They get things done and make good leaders. Warriors are underrepresented in The School for Heroes compared to the outside world, because many of them are outside playing sports or working with their hands; fewer find their way to the Web or our site. Those who do find us make great additions to the school because they act as catalysts to get everyone moving.

    Wizards > Intuitive Thinkers

    Wizards tend to fall into the NT category. They like to research, consider all the possibilities, and make well-reasoned judgments before they make a decision. Programmers make likely Wizards. Since those are also people who are likely to browse the Web, we have a much higher representation of Wizards in The School for Heroes than you will find in the general population.

    Paladins > Intuitive Feelers

    We also have a higher-than-usual complement of Paladins. A lot of that is self-selection because – to many people – Paladins are Heroes and vice versa. Our site says “The School for Heroes” and that idea is attractive to Paladins. Most Paladins are NF personalities. They like philosophies, ideals, and the big picture. They care about people and want to help them. Paladins are the most likely to volunteer for a charity event or the Peace Corps. But the path of the Paladin is by no means the only way to be a Hero.

    Rogues > Sensory Perceivers

    Rogues can be troublemakers, but they can also be a valuable resource for shaking up a sleepy enterprise and coming up with unique flashes of insight. They tend to be SP personalities – They like excitement, risk, and action with unknown results and consequences. Oh, I think we mentioned that there are no Rogues in The School for Heroes; how could someone who likes to stir up trouble or tweak others want to be a hero? Despite this incongruity, there are still some people who take the Hero Test that seem to come out as Rogues. (We try to integrate them into the new Bard class.)

    Bards – the Versatile Class

    Bards are usually a hybrid of SP and NFP personalities (not too many Bards have Judging personalities). They are usually Extraverts, although some composers and writers can be Introverted, yet still successful as Bards. They are the communicators, the entertainers, and sometimes the shakers-up of staid traditions (especially those Bards who started out as Rogues). Bards like excitement, but they deal with it in indirect ways rather than by taking direct action as a Warrior might.

    Whatever your archetype, there is a place for you in The School for Heroes. We hope that the Hero Test will help you to understand your own personality type a little better. Knowing what drives your decisions may also help you to get along with others of conflicting personality types… or in the case of Warriors, other Warriors when they both want to lead.

    Keirsey also has a more recent book, Please Understand Me II, on the subject. We can also recommend Do What You Are, by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger.

    Incidentally, for another fun take on the archetypes as related to gaming character types, check out this Monkey, Ninja, Pirate, Robot article. The second page of the article has a fun table suggesting all sorts of correspondences with the “big 4” personality types (SJ, SP, NT, and NF).