Recently I have been thinking a lot about the core principles of my ideal family culture. Then I came across the idea of organizing them in a manner similar to my take on the Big 5 personality traits, which I call Hero, Smith, Wizard, Knight and Shephard. So here they are:
The Hero Principle
Prove yourself in combat
This principle is particularly important for young people. The idea is that at a certain point, you need to go out of your comfort zone, take some risks, and find you powers. People living the Hero mindset are looking for opportunities, and are not afraid to take fail.
This may be obvious, but a lot of people don’t really do this very well, and it can interfere with the transition from childhood to adulthood. Basically, the Hero period in your life is the transition from childhood. I think it needs to start a little earlier (say, around 14 years old), and in some cases, end a little earlier.
Take my own experience, for example. I would say that when I was young I wasn’t sufficiently focused on finding ways to prove myself. Instead, I wanted safe way to transition to adulthood, a guaranteed method of becoming a respected adult. This is one reason why I joined the military. I knew that it wasn’t really a way to challenge myself in the ways that I needed to be challenged, but it seemed like if I could become a military pilot I would gain unquestioned respect.
However, it really wasn’t the right venue for me to prove myself, and so I continued to try to prove myself until I was about 40. This is too old, I should have transitioned to the next phase of my life by then. And by taking the wrong risks too late in life I delayed providing a safe place to begin having a family.
The Smith Principle
Settle down and get to work
Even if you lean Hero or Wizard, you can’t keep tilting at windmills. There comes a point in life where you need to be satisfied with who you are and what you are doing. Then you can settle down, put your nose to the grindstone, and build something.
I chose some of the wrong ways to try to be a Hero, and one result was that my transition to adulthood took a long time. I didn’t want to settle down and start working because I wasn’t really satisfied with my place. I didn’t want to play the game.
But at a certain point you need to stop taking big risks, and making big changes, and just bloom where you are planted. This will enable you to create a safe environment for raising a family and providing a stable place for raising the next generation.
The Wizard Principle
If you can’t be an intellectual, be an intellectual supporter
This one comes from an old joke I heard as a kid: if you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter. Anyway, the point is we need to respect and value both intelligence and intellectual openness. If you have a tendency toward intellectual pursuits yourself, then you need to write. I consider myself an intellectual, so I write about issues that are important to me and those I care about.
If aren’t really an intellectual, you need to associate yourself with and support some people who do. For example, one of my favorite intellectuals is Scott Alexander. So I support him by subscribing to (and reading) his new substack. I also expect those closest to me to engage with my thinking. My friends do that in a number of ways, but I am particularly grateful that my wife, Mercedes, values that part of me.
The Knight Principle
Embrace expressions of threat sensitivity
With threat sensitivity comes emotional volatility, including expressions of anger. Lately I have heard a number of people insisting that it is never ok to get angry and say cruel things. This is just wrong. Our relationships will be stronger if we are anti-fragile. When people are threatened emotionally, they don’t always react rationally, and so if we expect all communication to be measured and rational, it will ultimately lead to imbalance and resentment.
I credit Mercedes with this one. A few years ago she read this book called Mindset that describes the virtues of something called the growth mindset, which turns out to be a lot like the Hero mentality. People with a growth mindset have an eye for opportunities, and don’t mind failing a few times.
After reading, Mercedes thought to herself: that all sounds great, but it isn’t really me and I am not going to fake it. By nature, she is sensitive to threats and change, and this mentality has a place in our world too. By coming to terms with her own nature, and helping me to understand it, our relationship has become much richer and we have been more successful as a family.
The Shephard Principle
Cultivate long term relationships
Recently, my cousin sent me this podcast talking about the secret to career success. The bottom line: play long term games with long term people. I can’t emphasize this enough. But to do this we need to have long term relationships.
In the Hero phase of life, it is pretty natural to move from place to place looking for the best opportunities to prove ourselves. However, you don’t succeed long term (financially or emotionally) by burning bridges and moving on. You succeed by building tight-knit communities of trust.
One way to think about relationships is that they have three dimensions: stability, productivity, and enjoyability. To have a successful and fulling life, we need to cultivate a few relationships that are high in all three dimensions. And ideally, these relationships will be embedded in strong relationship networks (i.e., multiple interconnected people).