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Don't Kick That Football, Charlie Brown!

As a person who prefers to make up my own games and rules, I understand the importance of understanding different levels of the brain in order to grow. I also recognize that what makes us human is our ability to think and act in ways that are beyond the capabilities of animals. I believe that by examining ourselves, recording our thoughts and interactions, and drawing conclusions, we can take control of our growth and development and increase our chances of success.

Take Control of Your Growth and Development - Learn from Charlie Brown's Example

By Michael Levin

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The important thing at this time in your life is to keep forging on forward with a sort of force and truth that makes it clear to everyone interacting with you that it’s the “you-show”. It’s fine for other people to tag along and be with you on your adventure. Particularly, your kid should see you doing your own thing, doing cool things, and really engaging with the world in a lively and competitive fashion. This is to set a good example for them so that they can engage in their own version of Calvin Ball. Honestly, go read some Calvin & Hobbs, then come back. This is good stuff coming up in this article: the one, two, threes of not the big mistakes, and getting on with your life as a human being.

Calvin Ball Rules

I’ve never been one much into sports. I think they’re stupid for so many reasons. I prefer to do my own thing, make up my own games and rules. Calvin-ball comes to mind. There is so much to learn from Calvin and Hobbs, one of the greatest comic strips ever written. Of course his protege Charlie Brown said a lot of it first, particularly in the Lucy football scene. If one does not know that cultural reference, one should get to know it.

We all fall on our backs. We all self-sabotage. It’s just part of existence. The trick is to do what Charlie Brown fails to do for so many comic-years, which is to become aware enough of himself and the situation so as to start modifying it. There is a particular process that can be undertaken to make sure that Lucy does not pull the football away and that Charlie Brown can have a positive experience and restart his stalled-out process of learning and growth.

It goes like this:

Step 1: Communicate Clearly

Charlie Brown is not there kicking the football alone. Lucy is there too, and presumably we the audience. This is an opportunity for Charlie Brown to communicate to Lucy in a clear fashion making sure she understands that he expects her to not pull the football away. This is the “communicating clearly” part. The responsibility is on Charlie Brown.

Presumably, Lucy is another human being like Charlie Brown with empathy and the desire to be his friend. Of course this may not be true, but we are proceeding giving Lucy the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she thinks the humorous response from the audience is what Charlie Brown wants too and is doing him a favor. We do not know Lucy’s motivations and must not presume beyond giving the benefit of the doubt on first-pass.

Get communication acknowledged to your satisfaction

And so Charlie Brown communicates his desire for her to hold the football steady and not pull it away at the last minute. Charlie Brown himself is now responsible for making sure Lucy repeats his desire. Charlie Brown must be assured that Lucy has heard him and that communication that Charlie Brown thinks has occurred actually has. Who knows? Lucy may not be able to hear him and just be nodding yes at everything.

Actually getting Lucy to repeat back what Charlie Brown said in her own words to his satisfaction is the only way to be sure she heard. This is what’s called an “acknowledgement”. Plenty of what you think is communication is not really communication because it lacks the acknowledgement step.

Without the party on the receiving end of the communication actually transmitting back something with information that could only be there as a result of the information that was sent can Charlie Brown be sure. The whole purpose of communicating clearly is to receive that acknowledgement. If there is no acknowledgement, there may have not been any communication.

If lives are at stake, or it is something you really care about, and the communication is critical for your success, absolutely do not proceed without that acknowledgement. You will likely die or be disappointed. It is better to deny a person the ability to betray you than to walk into a set-up trap. Oh wait, we’re giving Lucy the benefit of the doubt here, aren’t we?

Okay, so then wait until you receive that acknowledgement before trying to kick that football. This may be uncomfortable and silence may hang in the air for a bit. You may have to rephrase your request for acknowledgement or ask them to rephrase the actual acknowledgement. Phrases like “Okay” can be retroactively recast as “Oh, I thought you said…” or “I thought you meant…” or other variations of eff-you. Wait until it’s something along the lines of “Okay, I will not pull the football away or otherwise do anything intentional to make you fall”.

Once you have received acknowledgement of this unambiguous sort (beware genie-logic), you may proceed to step 2.

Step 2: Record The Acknowledgement

Capturing an acknowledgement on video is best. These days it’s pretty easy to do with a phone. If you live in a state where both parties must be aware of the recording, then be polite and let Lucy know you’re going to be recording it. Also in this modern age, it’s very possible to do by text messages. Text messages are in may ways better because of the written-word. It comes off a lot like a contract.

A far second-best to video or text messages is witnesses. Of course in the case of Charlie Brown, the audience is the witness, and if Lucy went back on such a stated-out-loud acknowledgement and knowingly and deliberately broke a good-faith contract for everyone to see, her character would become much less sympathetic, indeed. Lucy knows that with an audience, she must stay consistent with her word to not look like a contemptible lying hypocrite.

You can’t live life like a eff-ing lawyer, though can you? In certain circumstances like skydiving, it’s like checking your equipment. The probabilities of your parachute not opening are sufficiently high that although uncompromising detail-oriented double-checking and self-assurances may be tediously boring, it will keep you alive. You will catch faulty equipment preparation and save your life one day.

This same principle applies to motorcyclists who must constantly be looking around them and aware of their surroundings because motorcycles do not provide the same airbag and crumple-zone protection of modern cars. You have to look at the patterns and odds of devastating consequences of communication failure to gauge how steadfastly you demand high-resolution acknowledgement. If your mood being ruined for the day is a devastating consequence (as it is with me), then there’s no awkward silence so long that’s not worth waiting through.

If you have difficulty communicating your desire for a high-resolution acknowledgement, take your time. Remember, Lucy is presumably your friend and friends care what each other think and feel. You can stall for time as you think about how to phrase it to Lucy. For example, Charlie Brown can say, “Lucy please give me a minute. There’s something I want to say before I try to kick this football, but I need a moment to compose my thoughts and say it properly, okay?”

If Lucy is your friend, she will be okay with this and wait. If her response is “The Game Must Go On! Get up off your lazy ass, Charlie Brown, and kick this football!”, then Charlie Brown must give some thought as to Lucy’s true motivations. Is this a game or is this the Normandy Invasion during WWII? Games are games and life-or-death is life-or-death. If someone poses a game as life-or-death to make you override your good senses, they may not actually be your friend.

Similarly, if acknowledgement is not given to your satisfaction (clear terms that the football will not be pulled away), you should have the confidence to explain your reasons. Especially with an audience around you can say that there is a history of a problem occurring at this point and you requested simple verbal acknowledgement that this thing will not go wrong again, and they have refused to provide it. It’s just words. What’s the harm? Walk away. Any reasonable observer will applaud you for your intelligence.

You are now ready for step 3.

Step 3: Growth as a Human Being

Deceit and traps exist in nature. In fact, the main hunting method of reptiles who generally lack the higher-order emotional intelligence of social mammals, is ambush predation. Reptiles are frequently ambush predators. It’s a good strategy if you’re cold-blooded. Ambush predators conserve energy until striking. This is actually necessary for the very reason that b they are cold-blooded. Their metabolism burns up their fuel much more slowly, and exertions and effort is only to be put-forth when there’s good odds of a return in the form of a meal, which they will take a long time digesting.

Ambush predators conserve energy until striking

As you will hear said all over the place on the Internet, we have a lizard brain. You may call it referred to as a “limbic system”. That’s only a tiny part of the story. We have a worm-brain. We have a frog-brain. We have a lizard-brain. We have a colony-mammal brain. And finally, we have a primate brain. The human brain is hardly worth mentioning, as it is the most recent and extraneous addition, over the past half-million years, as opposed to over a half-billion years ago when animals with vertebrates (what we came from) first evolved.

Make a fist around your thumb. Your thumb is the spinal cord. Your ring-finger is the worm. Your middle-finger is the frog. Your ring-finger is the reptile. Your pinky is all the mammals, primates and your uniquely human neocortex. Of course this roughly maps to the actual location in your head, with your pinky being that part under your forehead. Growing as a human being requires understanding this model. Each of those fingers, including the thumb, thinks in its own way.

Societies and cultures intuit these facts constantly. Spontaneous rediscovery of the same principles is not uncommon. Hindu Chakra that literally maps out these locations isn’t so different than Chinese Chi and acupuncture, which does similar mappings. The worm makes you walk. The amphibian knows a think or two about escaping danger. The lizard can deceive you (lying, cheating and generally being a horrible person is “lower-order”). And chimps can patrol their territories against other monkey tribes.

There honestly is no difference between chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos and us except for the resolution with which we can construct, carry around and adapt an image of the world in our heads so that we can make predictions and take commensurate actions that increase the likelihood of our survival. Humans can do this with higher resolution and greater subtlety and nuance than a chimpanzee, orangutan or bonobo. That’s it.

We all have symbolic thought. The virtual copy of the world in our head that has an approximation of how physics and deceit work is itself a giant symbol in the brain that represents the world. Object-oriented programming is so popular because it represents the organization, hierarchies and interrelationships of such symbols, going from the complex one for our world down to simpler ones like “dog” possessing the method “bark”. There’s deep channeling all around us.

Humans are better at object-oriented programming that chimpanzees. We both can use tools, have culture and can record and transmit information down through the generations. There are rain-dances and vocalization dialects different between chimp and bonobo tribes that can’t be attributed to genetics. Jane Goodall basically opened the floodgates observing chimpanzees shaping sticks to probe termite mounds for food. Ever since, everything that makes us uniquely human has been stripped way short of the ability to write an article like this that builds upon so much trans-generational subtlety and nuance that we have a sort of shutout momentum built up over our planet of the apes brethren.

Any chimp can pick up a stick and do what the previous chimp did. Tool use does not make you human. Neither does the ability to talk, win arguments, or even sheer cleverness. Ambush predators are clever with that kind of intelligence. Macaques live lives of stealing and mooching off the peoples, looking for loopholes, and generally making fools and clowns of themselves so everyone laughs and lives with these adorable but menacing clowns in their midst. That does not make a macaque human. To be human is to think and act in ways that animals can not do based on genetics and mimicry.

Original thought, and the ability to capture, refine, and build upon work over the time to make it into something even more original and unique makes you different. One macaque is greatly like another macaque but for personality traits. However, the first wild bearded capuchin who figured out how to first dry nuts in the sun to make them easier to crack to get the yummy meat inside without watching another capuchin do it first, I would argue, is more human than most humans. I’d like to hang out with that monkey.

Creativity. The inability to summarize you and everything about you into a few cliched phrases. That is what makes you human. You can see the desire for the sort of verifiable uniqueness that I state here in step 3 regarding growth are desired and channeled deeply in such modern technology as blockchain and nonfungible tokens (NFT). This is because everyone is mostly copying everyone else and not exercising their uniquely human abilities. But those who are are uniquely special and different, and we should be able to evolve our own tools in order to recognize and reward it.

And so there’s your growth. Know all those things about you that are worm (muscle-memory), amphibian (fight-or-flight), reptile (ambush-predation), lower-mammal (symbolic thought and empathy), and higher-mammal (higher frequency creativity). Do some self-examination through journaling and writing just like I’m doing now.

Cast aside the excuses. There are infinite excuses why you can not get this done, but only one reason you can: you are exercising what it means to be uniquely human. You are able to be the force of your own growth. You are able to think things through and realize why your life is not moving forward. You are able to:

  1. Make Lucy acknowledge to your satisfaction that she will not pull away the football
  2. Record Lucy acknowledging what you said, thereby guaranteeing effective communication has actually occurred.
  3. Talk through in such a format as journaling what happened during the interaction and why, drawing conclusions that you can use to modify your future behavior.

Charlie Brown Kicking The Football

Congratulations! You Win.