Jetboy Werewolf

In one of the stories in Asimov’s I, Robot there is a robot charged with beaming energy from a space station down to Earth. If he does it correctly, Earth gets an abundance of cheap energy. If he does it wrong, millions of people die from this huge energy blast hitting the planet. The problem is that this particular robot has become convinced that Earth does not exist.

Some of the main recurring characters in this book are these “robot psychologists” who deal with this sort of thing, so they fly out to the station to try to convince the robot that Earth is real. The robot just thinks that nothing outside of his station exists and some omnipotent “creator” is testing him. The psychologists are pretty sure Earth is doomed because they can’t convince the robot otherwise, but when the time comes to execute the energy transfer, the robot does it flawlessly. It was part of his delusion that this omnipotent “creator” wanted him to execute the transfer, so he did it. He didn’t need to believe Earth was real, he just needed to know how to do his job and be motivated to do so.

Skill is one thing, but motivation can come from all sorts of sources that aren’t true or accurate.

My son currently has a superheroic alter-ego that he plays as very frequently. This superhero is named “Jetboy Werewolf” and his superpower is that he’s a werewolf with a jetpack. I’ll give you a minute to recover from how incredibly awesome that is.

All my kids are normally good about chores, but that doesn’t mean that they’re often enthusiastic. However, if I frame a chore as some sort of evil plot that only Jetboy Werewolf can foil, my son suddenly gains maximum motivation and does that chore with the speed that only a werewolf with a jetpack could manage. He’ll put away every toy and clean up every piece of laundry in an instant if I exclaim that the mess was made by evil lava monsters that can only be defeated by cleaning up.

In other words, just like with the robot, the key is to embrace and engage. If that’s where your motivation comes from and all I really care about are the results, why would I fight the way you want to see the world?

You can extrapolate this into all sorts of other things in life. People see the world differently than you. Some part of that worldview informs their motives. The worldview might motivate them against you, in which case you might have to spend some time pushing back if you have no other options (though in my view, you almost always do have other options, including just leaving them alone and finding someone better aligned to work with). But sometimes people’s worldview actually motivates them in the same direction as someone else, but that “someone else” will still waste breath trying to fight that worldview, just because they don’t share it.

This is, of course, bananas. If you want to raise money for a charity, and someone says “My worship of the Titanic Space Penguin Bocoraz demands that I donate money to exactly this charity or he will smash me to pieces with comets, the Icebergs of Space,” then you could waste a bunch of time trying to convince this person that their worldview is patently insane, or you could just accept that for whatever reason you both want the same thing and cash the check.

It’s crazy to me that there is anyone who chooses the former, but people frequently do. Don’t be one of them.

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