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the monsignor

 
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In my quest to build knowledge about the recipe for community, I met a woman that told me about her experiences growing up in a catholic school.  She touched something in her story that was of huge interest to me.  So I tried to get every spec of information out of her that I could about “The Monsignor”.

When other people have told me about their experiences in catholic school, it sounds exactly like public school, but with nuns as teachers.   And I have also heard stories about hands being slapped with rulers.  Most of the stories seem to suggest evil nuns doing evil things, but then they admit there is a little exaggeration and most of the nuns are perfectly fine.  

Apparently, in this school, goodness is achieved not by threat of ruler whacking or nun monsters, instead it was more like “The Monsignor won’t like that.”  

My impression is that “The Monsignor” is kinda like the principal in a public school.   For all the schools I attended, I suspect that “The Principal won’t like that” would have near zero weight with any student.    The woman told me that The Monsignor was really nice and the idea that she might disappoint him was horrifying.  

A real life super power: a look of disappointment that makes children cry.  And makes adults ashamed of themselves. (and makes some adults cry too)

I tried to find out what made a look of disappointment work so well from this one guy.  What I got is:

    - he is an authentically decent person

    - everybody else fears disappointing him - so a sort of peer pressure

    - you actually don’t see him very often, so he has a bit of mystic celebrity status


What a magnificent glue to hold that school together.   It could also be a magnificent glue holding a community together.

The Monsignor is magnificently fascinating to me.  After a great deal of thought, I thought that there could be somebody from another church that is immune to the super powers.   Or people from government, or maybe most criminals.  There could be a bar or strip club where his powers don’t work at all.   These people have different values.  Different standards.  

Maybe a rabbi has a girlfriend and The Monsignor thinks that a person in that position should be celebate.  So The Monsignor activates “The Look of Disappointment” and it does nothing to the rabbi.  The rabbi has different values.  

Maybe the rabbi has the exact same power set in his group.  And he activates “The Look of Disappointment” on The Monsignor and it doesn’t work either!  Same reason.

So maybe we start a new community and The Monsignor is in charge.   We add 20 random people and only one of them respects The Monsignor and, therefore, the super power works on only one person.   The magnificent community glue isn’t gonna work.  

Some important takeaways:

  • this effect is very powerful, but also very rare

  • this effect is very powerful, but also only works on people with matching values

  • decency according to the value set is how to get those powers

  • while it is very unlikely that anybody will ever develop to the super power level of The Monsignor, it is possible for especially decent people to get 20% of those powers.

  • it is critical to build community with people with similar values

  • if you have a central leader, and a person, Bob, doesn’t respect the central leader, it will probably be best for the whole community if Bob heads down the road.

  • Building community with strictly this element is nearly impossible, but if there can be a little bit of this, it will help



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    if you have a central leader, and a person, Bob, doesn’t respect the central leader, it will probably be best for the whole community if Bob heads down the road.

    Why does it always have to be Bob???

    Interesting concept.  I've seen the effect at work many times over.  A leader can be viewed as charismatic by some people, and a total idiot and annoyance by others.  Shared values are critical to the success of any venture.  And while I jest about the use of "Bob" in the above example, I have to agree with you that it is best for the whole community if Bob heads down the road.  Given enough time, Bob may come around, but in the meantime his presence and lack of respect and cooperation will hold back the group and probably cause permanent damage.

    I have not met Paul in person, but from videos I've watched on permies and Youtube, it seems he has "the look" mastered.
     
    paul wheaton
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    Bob Gallamore wrote:Why does it always have to be Bob???



    Because "bob" is a palindrome!  We're all jelly that our names are not also palindromes!


    I have not met Paul in person, but from videos I've watched on permies and Youtube, it seems he has "the look" mastered.



    I'm not sure what "the look" is to get to monsignor magic, but there is clearly evidence that there are some people that are certain that I am not fit to be a leader of anything.

     
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    I think there's such a thing as a "Catholic guilt trip".  I was raised Catholic and it sure seemed like my parents and others in the church were very very good at guiding your behavior with guilt.  Maybe there's a better word than guilt but that's what I'll use.  After being raised in such a system, I've naturally picked up those same super powers.  I have to be careful that I don't use these powers on other people now that I'm not among Catholics as much.  But if I need to, I sure can turn it on and make it happen.

    So I'm not sure how this fits in with the Monsignor concept but I'm pretty sure it's a part of it.  

    My hunch is that the third point about the Monsignor being mystical due to infrequent sightings isn't as important as the other two.  I think that's just a part of being a lowly student in a big school.  The teachers are just calling upon a higher power (Monsignor) to guilt/guide a student.  If the teacher has enough guilt power over the students themselves, they can give that disappointed look themselves and get the desired effect.

    I also think that when the Monsignor is faced with a disrespectful student or heckling neighbor, he probably reacts with the powers of introspective disappointment and generally not yelling or arguing.  But that probably works much better with people of the same values.  IE the student may or may not immediately change behavior but they may stew on it and eventually change their ways.  The heckling neighbor won't change a thing.

    Regarding your takeaways, I think the power is more common than you propose.  I think it's basically standard peer pressure and guided conformity but it's through the mechanism of guilt.

    I'd love to hear more Catholic interpretations of this power.  I'm not really an ex-Catholic, more of a drifted away one.  If that matters.
     
    Bob Gallamore
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    paul wheaton wrote:

    Bob Gallamore wrote:Why does it always have to be Bob???



    Because "bob" is a palindrome!  We're all jelly that our names are not also palindromes!




    Henceforth I shall take pride in seeing my name used in such a fashion.
     
    Bob Gallamore
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    The whole monsignor question aside, Paul does bring up the most difficult part of building a community that is focused on a single aim.  Finding people of like mind is difficult, even in the short term.  In the long term it becomes even more difficult, even for someone extremely charismatic and focused, to maintain order and focus.  This is why so many utopian community quests have failed after a brief brush with success.  I suspect that Wheaton Labs is more successful with a small core of people and "boots" that rotate through on a regular basis than it would be trying to keep a larger group focused on a common direction for an extended period of time.  I know my own limitations when it comes to that.  I'm too independent minded (my Dad calls it hardheaded) and enjoy being on my own too much to work well in a community group.  I can do it in small increments, but after a while I just have to get out away from people and do my own thing.  Knowing that about myself, I wouldn't inflict that on a group.

    Another aspect of the monsignor "look of disappointment" is that there is a level of trust, as well as respect and even fear, that is required in order for it to be effective.  Once that trust is lost, the look loses its power.
     
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    paul wheaton wrote:

  • this effect is very powerful, but also only works on people with matching values


  • Not necessarily. We had a language teacher at school, an elderly lady, not loud-spoken at all, but even the boys with "non-learning - reading's boring" attitude behaved like timid mice (and, I think, tried to study). It was not respect for age (the music teacher did not have such power), nor respect for reading/writing. It might've been a bit of peer-pressure, but it never worked in other classes. Mystery.
     
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