You are what you do

Two things are on my mind. One is this old article that I’ve frequently talked about. I was going to quote excerpts but, oh, just read it. It isn’t that long. The upshot: People and organizations have needs and how you’ll be received is approximately proportional to how they think you will meet said needs.

Of course, in professional settings, it is “what do you bring to your organization/team?” vs “how much trouble are you?” In personal settings, it can be something as simple as “how do you make others feel” or, rather, how do others feel around you? Are you uplifting? Do you help others feel better about themselves? Do they enjoy your company?

And yes, accomplishments matter; people are attracted to success.

And, well, you are in trouble if you end up extracting more from others than they get from you.

That brings me to the short “Meal Ticket” from the Ballad of Buster Scruggs. You can see a discussion of that short here.

Spoiler alert: the upshot is that the short is about a travelling showman who goes to rustic frontier towns in the 19’th century US. It is cold; the towns are rustic, and the people hard. The main act is a legless, armless orator who recites famous poetry, speeches and playlines, while lit by candlelight on a stage. That is the act.

Over time, the audiences dwindle and give less and less money and the showman gets depressed. He then notices a livelier competing show; it is a chicken that can supposedly solve arithmetic problems. People shout out, say, “2 +7” and the chicken pecks the pan with a 9 on it.

The showman wants to take over the act, so he pays, for him, a lot of money for that chicken.

So, now the armless, legless orator, the showman and the chicken are travelling together…and the showman decides the orator has exhausted his usefullness…

Yes, very dark indeed. But note: that chicken cannot do math; the showman thinks that the chicken can do math! Follow the above link to see the secret. I admit that when I saw the film for the first time, I thought part of the story was a supernatural chicken…but then…why would the owner sell it?

But the larger point: the orator’s physical neediness was tolerated and accepted (yes, there is a bathroom scene) so long as his orations brought in money. When it stopped…well…you get the drift.

And that leads to another point of mine: on social media, people are always clamoring to “make noise”, “not take it” or about “that is NOT ok”. But: unless said people have something that others want, be it money, position to take action, or a position and ability to lead actual action, they are just making noise and will be tuned out.

Humans are transactional and people need to be given a reason to listen to you. Of course, there is a very dark side to this too.