Wicked not so Wicked
Dichotomy of human desires, Founding of Visa, Highly-influential decisions, Raising your kids well, Rationality of Charlie Munger
A few days ago, we saw Wicked the Musical in Miami. While discussing the play on our walk back, we had a couple of interesting reflections that apply to life outside of the stage too.
The Dichotomy of Human Nature
Is Glinda the power queen or friend? Glinda’s character subtly reveals the dichotomy in human nature and desires. One of the most beautiful aspects of humans is that we have many facets to our nature. This beauty doesn’t always lead to song and dance, however. The many facets to our nature also creates conflicts among these facets, which often compete with each other to attain the dominant spot.
Here is a trivial but real example. One facet of your nature may want to be creative and work obsessively on your own projects. While another facet of you may simply want to retire to snuggling on the couch and read all day, every day. (I’m just describing myself!)
It only slightly comforted me to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. In his book One From Many, Visa’s founder Dee Hock candidly discussed this tension he faced before starting Visa: “Do I really want to take on the stress of starting this company or can I simply have a normal job and spend the rest of my time reading, which I love?” (paraphrasing him)
As we all know, Dee Hock decided to start Visa. He made a conscious decision to dedicate most of his energy to building Visa and solving a big problem in the world. At that point in his life, he gave reign to the business element of his nature.
However, after retiring from Visa, he retreated into farm life, spending time with his family in the quiet, and reading and writing. The “I just want to read” facet of his nature dominated during this period.
Coming back to Glinda. She liked attention from people. All her life, she had dreamed of being queen and being the leader of the people. When she finally attains this queen-like status, she is faced with a conflict. Another facet of her human nature decides to compete with the queen nature.
Her best friend Elphaba has to go into hiding and part of Glinda wants to retreat with her friend. She is torn. Should she continue to be in the spotlight or should she run away and enjoy her time in quiet with Elphaba?
It’s a subtle dichotomous moment in the play. The decision is made my Elphaba who exhorts Glinda to use her leadership prowess well to inspire the people of Oz.
Just look at me
And just look at you
You can do all I couldn't do, Glinda
So now it's up to you
For both of us
Now it's up to you
(Elphaba to Glinda)
How people make such dichotomous decisions is a whole other rabbit hole to go down. But the point I’m trying to illustrate is that humans are not linear beings with a constant nature. We have many facets to our nature which compete with each other and shine through differently at different times of the day, as well as different periods in our lives. On the plus side, our different facets also make us beacons of curiosity!
Highly Influential Decisions with nth Order Consequences:
There is one critical moment in the play that defines the entire plot line. Glinda asks her lover Bok to ask another girl Nessa to the dance. This has many 2nd order consequences, the biggest one being that Glinda and Elphaba become best friends.
While Glinda didn’t think much of her request when asking Bok, the author of the play meant this decision to be plot-defining.
This got me thinking about highly influential decisions. Highly-influential decisions are those that have an outsized impact on all areas of your life, often changing the trajectory of your life. Who you marry, what you work on, which city you live in, how you take care of your health, and how you raise your children.
The last one might surprise some people and there is a quirk attached to it. How you raise your children may not change the trajectory of your life but it can change the trajectory of your child’s life. Raising children well is (likely) a selfless act.
When it comes to highly-influential decisions, it’s worth the time to try and map out some of the 2nd and 3rd order consequences, as they can aid the decision making.
For example, before you marry someone, it’s useful to ask yourself questions pertaining to the consequences that typically come post marriage. Do I want to have children with this person? Do I want this person to be the father or mother to my children? Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person?
Of course, beyond a certain point, we might just be fantasizing and reality ain’t so easy that it will allow us to perfectly map everything all the way to the end. But some amount of this type of thinking can be very useful, specially in high leverage decisions.
Such decisions don’t just change you in a step-wise manner, they change you for good. A song from Wicked is an apt quote here:
Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But
Because I knew you
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good
“Truth is what people want to hear”
Of course, the headline is not true, but there is a truth attached to it: that people believe what they want to believe. The Wizard of Oz had no real magical powers but he fooled the citizens of Oz by painting fantastical pictures for them. When the lack of his powers are revealed, he simply says, “Well, the truth is what people want to hear.” And Glinda follows a version of this beat too.
GLINDA: Well, I'm a public figure now! People expect me to--
GLINDA: Be encouraging!
The truth becomes what we want to hear, not what is actually the truth. This is a highly unscientific thing to say but it speaks to the irrationality in humans. There are so many moments when we don’t want to grasp reality. We just see things from our perspective.
This irrationality destroys nations and companies alike. It bestows power on people like Hitler to manipulate others. It lets politicians get away by painting fantastical pictures of the future and not following through. It allows prophets and pundits to stay afloat. It lets the people of Oz believe that the Wicked is Wicked.
This inability to see reality and see the truth might be one of the biggest weaknesses of humans. Trying to combat this weakness can serve us well.
In a recent interview, Charlie Munger was asked, “What Charlie has been the biggest trait that contributed to your success?”
Charlie Munger: “Rationality.”