I’m going to describe three types of people. I call them average, elite, and ascendant. One of the differences between the three is how they approach drama.
Average people love drama. It’s a distraction from the boredom of daily life. Average people enjoy drama in a self-aware way. It’s a known indulgence; an escape from weightier things that take too much effort.
Average drama takes the form of Judge Judy, or People Magazine, sports and celebrity gossip, and a voyeuristic pleasure in the domestic disputes of those around them. Average people like to trump up tough situations and turn them into drama as a way to make life seem more epic and interesting.
Elite people have an equal, if not greater appetite for drama than average people. But it’s masked by pomp and circumstance. Elite drama is a method of constant movement and benchmarking along the social hierarchy they so long to climb. Elite drama is not an escape, it has a purpose. It’s an integral part of elite life. Its purpose is to undermine or posture so that other’s dramatic failings make you look better by comparison.
Elite drama takes the form of complex office politics, infighting and gossip in churches or civic organizations, and of course governments and committees. It is mostly unspoken. It’s not acknowledged or recognized as drama, but painted as valuable information. “I think Sheila is angling for John’s job”, or, “I’m concerned that James is treating Hannah differently because they’re having an affair”.
Elite drama is imagined, created, provoked, and discussed not to materially change facts and arrive at solutions, but to create feelings, schisms, and unspoken alliances. It seeks perpetuation, not resolution. It’s used as a way to ask for things an elite would be too polite/dishonest/insecure to ask for directly. Rather than, “I want you to stop liking this person so much and start liking me more”, it’s, “Sure, they’re good at their job, but I wonder if other people on the team really trust them…” Elite drama-talk is pregnant with implication but almost devoid of provable, actionable fact.
Elites end up spending considerable energy and resource on drama, which limits their ability to become better versions of themselves. Hard work and focus are the most direct route to accomplishing anything, but in effort to shortcut the system, elite people pursue endless dramatic narratives and angling in effort to move up by by jockeying, rather than through direct hard work. The paradox is that navigating endless drama is more work in the end.
Ascendant people hate drama. They avoid it at all costs. They don’t care about Sheila or John or social hierarchies or elicit affairs or rumors. They hate celebrity gossip, political gossip, and workplace angling. All are a distraction from meaningful, productive progress.
The easiest way to separate the elite from the ascendant in a group of high performers is to introduce a juicy tidbit of gossip or some unspoken animosity. Elites will be unable to resist the lure of scandal that could possibly impact their social status or present an opportunity to climb the ranks of perception. Ascendant people will ignore it as soon as possible, find those willing to get to work, and move ahead.
When it comes to drama average people may be closer to ascendancy than elites. A known indulgence can be given up if the goal is meaningful enough. A way of life that permeates the complex lattice of social status isn’t so easily abandoned.
Drama is the enemy of progress. Rise above it in all its forms.
Isaac Morehouse is the founder and CEO of Praxis. This is part of a series on the difference between average, elite, and ascendant.