Charlie's Blog: The Positive Power of Unintimidation


The Positive Power of Unintimidation

Show me a hero and I'll show you a bum.

I do not believe in confidence. Confidence is a weird thing because it may make you bold, or it may be the hubris before the fall. It may provide the inspiration to try great things, or it may make you a sucker for the latest scam. When it is all said and done, confidence is just a trick of the mind which may end up with you being the one tricked. I believe in something better than confidence. I believe in unintimidation.

Unintimidation is a word I have kludged for the benefit of this discussion. I could use other terms like hardness. Here is what Nathaniel Fick had to say about hardness:
“Hardness," I was learning, was the supreme virtue among recon Marines. The greatest compliment one could pay to another was to say he was hard. Hardness wasn't toughness, nor was it courage, although both were part of it. Hardness was the ability to face an overwhelming situation with aplomb, smile calmly at it, and then triumph through sheer professional pride.
You can see in this quotation that Fick was searching for a term as well, so he settled on hardness. But even that word doesn't quite capture it. So, I think unintimidation is a better word. I will see if I can describe it better than he did.

No fighting force in the world captures the spirit of unintimidation like the United States Marine Corps. The USMC is a small fighting force being under the Department of the Navy and answering to that service branch. They have a small budget. Their equipment is outdated. They don't have all of the latest technology. Yet, they are incredibly tough and think nothing of taking on anyone at anytime. They never back down from a fight, and they never give up. You might beat a Marine, but you'll die with him. That is a promise.

Confidence is best exemplified by the Navy SEALs. The SEALs are an elite force, and many would argue that they are the top force in the United States arsenal. Plus, they will tell you themselves that they are the best. People who wish to become a Navy SEAL must endure a grueling course where they suffer various forms of torture and prove their mettle by not ringing a bell. If you ring the bell, you must live with the shame that you were a quitter. There's some deep psychology going on with that bell. But if you make it without ringing that bell, you have entered the hallowed ranks of bad asses. You can do anything in the world. This is confidence.

What is the value of confidence? It will make you go on suicide missions because you can't quit. You would lose your rank as a bad ass if you did. Then, if you survive the mission, you can pen a bestseller with a ghost writer, make millions from selling the movie rights to your book, and be known forever as a Navy SEAL bad ass. Meanwhile, Delta Force members won't divulge any details of their missions or even admit that they belong to Delta. But that is a topic for another discussion. Needless to say, the Hollywood treatment is eroding the status of the SEALs in the special forces community.

I used to be mesmerized by the mystique of the Navy SEALS. I just thought they were totally awesome fighters who could do anything. That mystique was punctured in the late 90s when I watched a team of SEALs compete in the Eco-Challenge and lose spectacularly. This race would be won by a bunch of middle aged hippies from New Zealand. The SEALs had to be rescued from the water. It was very humiliating for them. The one woman ultrarunner on the team that was required to meet the both sexes rule of the race ended up leading and basically dragging these SEALs over the course. They were not cut out for this type of ultra-endurance event.

What did I learn about the SEALs from this failure? I learned that confidence is crap. Confidence is a type of brainwashing that makes you do things you probably cannot or should not do. This brainwashing can be inflicted from without or even self-inflicted. It comes in handy when you need people to go on missions that have a high probability of death. This psychology of pride and confidence will make these men too ashamed to say no.

The psychology of Marines is quite different from that of the Navy SEALs. The Marines begin their journey in a rite of abject humiliation known as basic training. It is universally acknowledged that the Marines have the most brutal boot camp of any of the services with Parris Island taking a special place of privilege as a crucible second only to Hell itself. There is no bell here. You don't get to ring out. You are there, and they are going to demolish you and rebuild you. In that process, they take recruits and fashion them into that weird creature known as a United States Marine.

Marines have a very different mindset. They never forget their humiliation, but they also know they survived it. They become warriors with a different spirit based upon the steady sureness of who they are as Marines. They are not worried about humiliation because they have already been there. They will even share stories of those humiliations, and they take a weird pride in having endured them. Are you a bad ass if you began life as a loathsome maggot?

The Marines are not fond of elite units. One of their famous unofficial slogans is that "berets are for sissies." For a long time, the elite units of the USMC were Recon and Force Recon. They were considered elite simply because they were the tip of the tip of the spear. It means they went ahead of their fellow Marines for the purpose of gathering intel to send back to their command. Their missions were considered successful if they never fired a shot because this gunfire would give them away.

Over the last decade, the Pentagon tasked the Marines with putting together an elite force on par with the Navy SEALs and the Delta Force that would answer to SOCOM. The Marines have always been reluctant to do this sort of thing claiming that all Marines were already elite. Why create an elite within an elite? But they had to follow orders, and this is how the Marine Raiders were reborn. In World War II, the Raiders were Marines commissioned to do highly dangerous missions. They were disbanded after World War II. I get the feeling the USMC would like to disband them again. The commando stuff doesn't fit with the Marine Corps psychology.

All Marines including the ones peeling potatoes and cleaning latrines are trained to fight in the infantry. All Marines must be able to handle a rifle and be willing to fight. This produces in them a mixture of humility and toughness. If you doubt this, consider the most famous Marine of all time--Gomer Pyle.

Gomer Pyle should be an insult to the Marine Corps, but I have never met a Marine that didn't take it all in good humor. The Gomer Pyle thing is so linked to the Marines that Stanley Kubrick references it in Full Metal Jacket with the Private Pyle character. That movie was not as funny as the TV show. But it captures the humiliation of boot camp.

With the SEALs, the most embarrassing thing for them was the dust up between Jesse Ventura and Chris Kyle. Jesse would sue Kyle's widow in court for defamation because of things Kyle wrote in his book, American Sniper. Both men served as SEALs, but they have some strange personalities. Chris Kyle was a genuine war hero but also a pathological liar with stories of him embellishing his records in the military and stories outside of the military. He claimed to have punched Ventura in the face after saying that Ventura had said some really bad stuff about the SEALs. This was a total fabrication by Chris Kyle, and this is what led to the defamation suit which Ventura won. But the conventional wisdom is that two SEAL egos clashed and embarrassed each other in the process.

Why did a genuine hero like Kyle turn into such a liar? The answer goes back to confidence. Even when you're already a bad ass, you have to keep trying to convince yourself and others that you are a bad ass. But Pappy Boyington got it right. Show him a hero, and he would show you a bum. Both Kyle and Ventura show the truth in what Pappy was saying.

Confidence is merely a cover for insecurity. The people who seek confidence are trying to overcome this insecurity. But the insecurity is always there. It is the fear of humiliation. Consequently, this fear leads to timidity. It leads to fear of the truth about yourself or your situation. And this fear is overcome with denial.

Unintimidation is different because it embraces the truth about yourself, your situation, and other people. This is what Marines discover in boot camp. They find out the truth about themselves. I don't think the SEALs find anything except the fear of ringing that bell. This is what Eric Stevens wrote about the Marines:
What the Marines understand is the same thing the greatest teachers and coaches understand - success happens through failure. You must first learn humility to learn confidence. You must first feel powerless to truly feel powerful. You must first have intrinsic self-knowledge to obtain lasting extrinsic success. In other words, getting ‘there’ is a sacrifice.
Marines leave boot camp knowing they are tough. This remains with them. They have been rebuilt and reprogrammed. Once you have tasted failure and humiliation, you don't fear those things anymore. You don't think about them anymore. You just think about accomplishing the mission. Then, when it gets accomplished, you don't brag about it. It's just another day in your life.

The best example of unintimidation in the Bible is the story of David and Goliath. Goliath had confidence because he was so big and had his big weapons. He liked to brag and mock and challenged the Israelites to a man to man fight. All of the Israelites were intimidated except for David. David was unintimidated. He was a humble keeper of the sheep and a nobody. But he believed in God, and he had already killed some big animals with that sling of his. Goliath was just another one of those big animals. David put that rock in Goliath's head and cut his head off. Goliath was just so much hype.

The conventional wisdom is that the little guy gets the crap beat out of him by the big guy. But big guys can get dropped by anyone at anytime. Their dirty secret is that they can't fight at all expecting their size to psych you into backing down.

Words like confidence, pride, hardness, and toughness seem interchangeable. This is because these terms are not used with the precision I am using here. Essentially, confidence is hubris covering weakness while unintimidation is humility covering fortitude. With the story of David and Goliath, the man with confidence would have fought Goliath straight up with sword and shield and gotten slaughtered. This person would have been self-deluded. David was humble and eschewed the armor and sword because he didn't know how to use them. He knew his strength was in that sling, and he knew where Goliath's weakness was at and exploited it. Essentially, David didn't have the good sense to back down, but he did find a way to victory. This typifies the mindset of the Marine Corps. As for Goliath, his confidence was actually a weakness.

The power of unintimidation comes from knowing who you are truly and knowing that virtually everyone else in the world is full of crap. Confidence seeks admission to Yale and Harvard and scoring a high GPA. Unintimidation relies on hard work and a library card. Confidence buys a BMW on credit and pretends to be rich. Unintimidation buys a second hand pickup truck and works to become rich. In the end, unintimidation believes hard work beats hype.

The reason we have to use unintimidation as a term is in contrast to confidence. Let's face reality. Confidence wins and wins often. The reason confidence wins is because it psychs out the opposition. As long as everyone else is intimidated, confidence has an easy time of it. This ends when unintimidation walks through the door.

Marines have a reputation for being tough but also for being stupid. "Jarhead" has long been a slang term for Marines. The reason Marines are considered stupid is because they don't have the brains to quit. Marines are actually brilliant, but they reject the conventional wisdom that the victory goes to the bigger force. Marines use maneuver warfare instead of attrition warfare to exploit the weakness of an opponent. The real world self-defense system of Krav Maga employs the same strategy on an individual level.

People are desperate for confidence and will go to great lengths to acquire it. This is why so many kids pour into overpriced colleges chasing a piece of paper for the sake of looking smart when they could just work hard on becoming smart. Likewise, people will go to the gym and do CrossFit or slam heavy weights because they want to look fit instead of religiously adhering to calisthenics and running and actually becoming fit. They want the prize more than they want the Cracker Jacks in the box.

How do you get unintimidation? Here is a process for acquiring this valuable trait.

1. Become humble.

Unintimidation begins with humility. You have to start low to climb high. This means never thinking of anything as beneath you or thinking you are better than other people. Humility protects you from hubris. Always take the low place and never brag about yourself or your accomplishments. Other people will do that for you.

2. Choose simplicity.

Confidence loves complexity and sophistication. There is psychology at work there because we fear what we don't know. Fear ends when you realize that confidence doesn't know anything either. Keep your side of the equation simple because simplicity means effectiveness and zero bravo sierra. This is why AC/DC is better than King Crimson. They just plug in and rock.

3. Develop a blue collar work ethic.

Does hard work beat talent? It always does because talent is lazy. Talent means that it came easy, and easiness is the path to laziness. Resolve to rely on hard work instead of coasting on your talents.

4. Learn to identify the weaknesses in others.

You can usually find the weakness in others because they cover it with that hubris. This is just a nice way of finding out that most people are full of crap. Shock and awe is no match for unintimidation.

5. Embrace pain and suffering.

Toughness is forged in the crucible of suffering. When you become comfortable with the uncomfortable, this puts grit in your character. Make adversity your permanent home.

6. Resolve to never quit.

Toughness is nothing more than a refusal to throw in the towel. This is what Rocky Balboa resolved to do when he said he just wanted to go the distance with Apollo Creed. He was too stupid to lay down. Creed discovered he had a fight on his hands. That fight was confidence meeting unintimidation.

7. Never buy the hype.

Confidence focuses on style while unintimidation focuses on substance. Confidence is a pretty boy with gel in his hair. Unintimidation is a shaved head and a facial scar. Confidence is an empty box wrapped in shiny wrapping paper. Unintimidation is a gold bar wrapped in a plain brown wrapper.

8. No one is better than you.

No one is actually better than another person. They are simply different. Michael Jordan was the best basketball player but a mediocre baseball player. Most people are good at one or two things and very bad at everything else. Then, you have people who are competent at many things. People with talent and good fortune can be utter failures while people in wheelchairs can triumph. The point is that there is no comparison in a world of apples and oranges.

9. Give credit where credit is due.

If you can see the weaknesses and flaws in others, you must also appreciate their strengths and attempt to emulate those strengths and virtues in yourself. This keeps you from becoming a hater. The truly humble recognize true greatness and celebrate it.

10. Fuhgeddaboudit.

Confidence rests on its laurels. Unintimidation forgets about the victory mere moments after it was achieved. This is because excellence is a habit which is a fancy way of saying that you get used to winning and overcoming. You don't let it go to your head. Yesterday is over. Today is a new day. Do it all over again.


I will probably catch flak for some of the things I have written here, but I don't care. I am at the age where I don't buy the crap anymore. I know that truly great people are also truly humble. Conversely, those without humility are making up for some deficiency in themselves. You can keep selling the hype, but I'm not buying it. Just show me the men who are quietly getting the job done day in and day out. Those are my heroes. Everyone else is just a bum.