Shapes of Stories – Applying Vonnegut’s Tool to an Ancient Story

By: Heero Yuy

shapes-of-stories

Once upon a time the Ketuvim (כְּתוּבִים‎‎) was written. In it contained three poetic books called Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. It also includes a collection of five scrolls (Megillot) that has the book of Ecclesiastes. The introduction to Ecclesiastes the author is introduced as “son of David, king in Jerusalem” or better known as Solomon.

This book is a very good candidate to analyze and discuss with Shape of Stories as used by Kurt Vonnegut. All of stories can be mapped on an axis such as the one below:

plot
All stories have a beginning and an end filled with a mixture of good and ill fortunes. Within each story there are sub stories that follows the same principle. This is how all stories are told since the beginning of time and some get creative by jumping around on the timeline to tell slices of the story in non-chronological order (i.e. Fight Club or better yet Pulp Fiction).

The story of Ecclesiastes is told from the perspective of a King who’s done it all and seen it all and can truly profess that “there is nothing new under the Sun.” Each pursuit begins with purpose, progresses to fruition, celebrated with delight upon triumph, and ends dismissive as a useless and meaningless journey. Each chapter is a mini story and each paragraph a sub-story that follows this story arc.

For instance, the story begins where everything is meaningless in a very bottom-line upfront approach in story telling. Next the author tells the audience that:

  • Wisdom
  • Pleasures
  • Wisdom and folly
  • Toil

There is an intermission where the element of time is introduced and different elements on the spectrum of human experience in opposing pairs such as:

  • Birth and death
  • Plant and uproot
  • Kill and heal
  • Tear down and build up
  • Weep and laugh
  • Mourn and dance
  • etc, etc
  • War and peace

Before resuming his negative stream of consciousness the author also gives a hint at the idea of infinity, eternity, and God. Along with these elements the author describes beauty, happiness, satisfaction, toil, and fear.

A continuous chorus of “everything is meaningless” is song constantly throughout the dialog to drive the point home to remind the reader of this “ill journey” on the shape of the story. The “ill journey” on this journey is eternal confusion and failing to comprehend eternity to be stuck in an infinite loop of questioning in a finite world without knowing how to migrate to the next level of infinity.

Before resuming to telling the next elements of meaninglessness the author runs through yet another mini-story explaining the meaninglessness of toil, dragging down the story towards “ill journey”, and then at the end offers a solution which is to journey in life with a battle buddy and never going it alone:

“Two are better than on, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

Journey resumes and the list of meaningless continues with:

  • Advancement (Keeping up with the Jones’) [Part 1]
    • No way any normal man can keep up with a King, and no way a life can have meaning if a King cannot find meaning in it… Right?

Another intermission to remind man of eternity and “fulfill[ing] your vow to God.”

Meaningless list drags on with:

  • Riches [Part 2]
    • Can’t take money to the grave!
    • Your clout doesn’t matter worth a damn in a finite life vs. infinity

Now the entire meaning of life, major elements of it, and the toils and pleasures are all essentially worthless the author turns over a new leaf to then bring meaning back into all forsaken elements one by one. This is powerful for two reasons:

  1. He got your attention by riding the story up and down the line of good and ill fortune
  2. All your current perceptions and prejudices against all known things in life are now wiped clean
    1. You are now a clean canvas
    2. The teacher can start his lesson anew to build one up again

Each brick of the foundation is thus laid as follows (rising up from ill fortune to good fortune):

  • Wisdom
    • “A person’s wisdom brightens their face and changes its hard appearance”
      • Metaphoric for internal self image and perception
  • Obey the King
    • Basic law and order
  • A common destiny for all
    • We all die (Sorry!)
  • Wisdom is better than folly
    • “Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.”
      • People chase paper credentials and social status more so than real life wisdom (Even back in the day!!!)
  • Invest in many Ventures
    • Talks about diversification to hedge against risk
    • Observe market conditions to know when to throw down and toil, when to restrain oneself
    • Concludes with step-by-step investment strategies and the mechanics of investing
  • Remember the Creator while young
    • A troubled heart and anxious mind confuses the young
    • Message is to ponder about the infinity and see how small your daily problems are in comparison

Author after mentoring the young closes his Sales pitch by saying the hard earned truth is the most concise guide to a no non-sense life without any addition or subtraction from the principles outlined. Studying too much and reading too far into other texts in search of the distilled wisdom is a pure waste of time.

Major arcs in the story consists of a beginning where it is “ill fortune” with mini-stories of ill and good fortune and the story progresses to “good fortune” until the conclusion where it remains neutral like the glass surface of a still lake on a calm day. Stories conclude like this for only one reason and that is to leave the choice up the reader to willfully live a different life or remain the same as before even after learning of this knowledge.

The lights fade, curtains drawn, stage empty, and either the audience applauds or walks out in silence.

 

Gurus and Mentors – When to leave them and their advices behind

By: Heero Yuy

12-The-Love-Guru.jpg

 

So… Here in my backyard guy Tai Lopez is pretty infamous on the internet for his “proven steps” on how to not be “materialistic” with his new Lambo because “knowledge” and “books” are so much better to get more “fuel units.” Don’t be a cynic! Listen to his marketing… right? (Don’t focus on these glaring facts, Tai markets himself as a wonderful guy!)

Without a level head and good judgement, how can a person discern good stuff from bullshit? Well, there is this one product I know that has been proven to be effective throughout all of time that solves this very problem! I can show you in three simple steps! No, I won’t. It doesn’t take three steps, it just takes one or actually none. It’s called critical thinking.

When something is too good to be true these days it usually is a scam. Your own ideas should hold their own weight without relying on heavy name dropping of others and credentialing to establish a rapport with the audience by earning their trust and respect. That’s of course assuming the audience is capable of critical thinking so that they may decide if you are legit. If the audience is gullible, well, then one can do anything they want and pre-suade (Book by Robert Cialdini: Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade!).

Gurus and mentors are like tour guides on a long and tedious journey of life. Where they stop at is the peak of their individual experiences and they can lead you to that very point and direct you to yet another person to go beyond this point. While any guru can imagine what it feels like to go beyond their level, they simply lack the experience necessary to guide you further because they don’t know how or where to go! What you can do is politely thank the mentor and guru for leading you up to this point, find your direction, and then trek onward with the next guru and mentor to reach that next milestone.

Asking a questions to someone who you know doesn’t know will not provide you an answer you can trust and act upon regardless of their experience. (Blind leading the blind)

A person who hasn’t pushed their limits of understanding through experience will not know more in due time. Asking a guru that same questions for which they don’t know and haven’t explored at a later date will still not produce a better answer! Use your own experience to guide you to the next set of teachers and keep trekking along to overcome the next obstacle. Think critically and self direct with inner intuition when all else fails.

Pitfalls of vicarious learning – Some of life is to be lived and experienced

By: Heero Yuy

pitfall

Emotions are fundamental motivators for production. Salsa singer and writer Marc Anthony once said in an interview that he writes music whether he is happy or depressed. Likewise, this post originates from anger but invokes thought that has some resounding truth.

Once upon a time I had a conversation with two wise sages. They were trying very hard to impose their seniority and experience in the Corporate world to justify their valuation of my worth to Corporate america. As wise as these sages may be, they were not experienced in human resources, finance, or career coaching or counseling. As we moved from the abstract of their thesis to full bodies of arguments where I interrupted and asked a few questions. You see, in my world, the world of experience in the military, we did different things and those things also had different functions and values. I asked the following question:

  • Did you ever land a helicopter on a moving ship pitching and rolling with adverse winds, foggy conditions, and cloudy skies with low visibility?
  • Have you ever dove under the water to simulate the attacking force trying to defeat and disable a ship?
  • Lead men into combat scenarios and man damage control stations to be able to fight fires to save the lives of everyone at work?
  • Have the lives of other men and women placed in your hands whom entrusted their safety and well being to your ever watchful eyes and clear guidance to land a helicopter in adverse conditions as mentioned above?
  • Star gazed in the middle of the Ocean under a clear sky with zero light pollution except that of the ship you are on?
  • Saw the golden sunrise and the ocean turn orange under the purple sky with sunset everyday?
  • Fish for Tuna at the fantail of the ship on a low speed cruise?
  • Etc

To all these questions were of course met with a resounding response of “No.” To this I say “You of little experience regardless of your own perceived wisdom.” Everyone reading this vicariously considered in their imaginations what those experiences above might have felt like and then a luck few were with me through those experiences know FROM their OWN experience how that FEELS like themselves. The experiences of the two sages were undoubtedly valid for their own perception of the Corporate world. They do not possess the aptitude, without experiencing it themselves, to fully valuate the entirety of my experience based on their vicarious understandings. I know from experience, they know from a story produced by experience. Life on the Oceans is a poetic and surreal experience that, if survived, can greatly broaden the spectrum of emotional and intellectual capacity of a human being beyond measure (at least much more so than a regular 9-5 office/monitor/keyboard+mouse routine). We lived on the limit.

Can you truly learn and understand everything from reading alone?

My previous article on Experiences talks about reading and learning from others. While this establishes a good baseline to form experiences of your own while avoiding a lot of pitfalls that were previously identified, it does not excuse a person from living and experiences things for themselves! Experimental vs theoretical science and reality is the ultimate litmus test (proof is in the pudding).

For if anything is written, it had to have been experienced or done first by someone in order to start the learning process.*

*Note: Assuming that the knowledge is genuine and not meant to deceive or mislead the audience.

Think about the statement above for a moment. Someone had to have taught Lao Tzu in order for him to teach others. That someone learned it from someone who did it themselves to be able to teach it in the first place. Therefore, all wisdom originates from an original experience or a group of experiences. Experience are the bricks used by philosopher’s mortar to conceptualize their theories.

No matter how wise a person may seem to be, we are all limited by time and our respective limited experiences. Since time doesn’t work for us but against, no one person can be infinitely wise. Our only hope is that the collective whole can in time grow to be ever more wise so as to avoid the pitfalls of the past treading into the intrepid unknown and hopeful future.

Experiences – Learning from Others

By: Heero Yuy

tao-te-ching-lao-tzu

A Chinese Philosopher named Lao Tzu (老子) once wrote:

English:
“Without going outside, you may know the whole world.

Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.

Thus the sage knows without travelling;
He sees without looking;
He works without doing.”
– Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 47

Chinese:


Asians are known to be the geeky bookworm type and this quote gives a good reason for this hypothesis! There is a wealth of content that can be extracted from the wisdom of the Ancient Chinese Philosophies. A lot can be learned from the experiences of others either living or dead, captured in writing, seen in a video, or heard from radio/audiobook/conversations.

Watching UFC Champion Conor McGregor speak about MMA training during an interview I noticed he placed a huge emphasis on sparing and training working on the precision of his strikes and training the mind. He said this is upgrading the “software” to his “hardware” which is his body. You don’t necessarily NEED to be beaten to a pulp in order to learn how to fight! There are smarter and better ways to get the same if not better training if you know how to upgrade your software.

In the military we drill and train to fight. This repetitive discipline keeps us very sharp and ready to respond to various scenarios effortlessly so that we can smoothly carry out the mission with minimum mistakes. This quote from the post-war debrief of a German General captures the spirit of training:

“The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis.”

As individuals, we also can find a lot of life’s intricate answers through self reflection rather than seeking out the advice of gurus who found the same solutions by doing the same introspective meditation by themselves. When you find out this truth for yourself it is many folds more rewarding than getting it regurgitated from others. Once the veil comes off, pharisees abolished, and truth liberated we can seek the direct path to our own truths through meditating and using critical thinking.

Society is filled with the concept of outsourcing everything to increase margins. On the subject of self development and reflection we can benefit greatly from the practice of insourcing. For every solution found externally must be internalized for any change to take place and solutions found by oneself within is one step closer to attaining a better direction for life.

Before asking what would XYZ Guru/Person do next time simply ask:

What would YOU do?
What can YOU do?

Then go out and find the answers from within.