[July 13, 2020] One thing that sets the best leaders apart from others is that they read, study, and discuss ideas. Long ago, when I was a staff officer as a U.S. Army Infantry Captain, a small group of junior officers was joking one day about the 1991 Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. Why did it pique our interests so much?
After the movie’s release, a few of us had taken our families to see it. Of course, we were all familiar with the story. It’s what philosophers often call a meta-story.1 The story tells of a Beast, a prince who turns magically into a monster, and Belle, a young woman whom he imprisons in his castle. To break the curse, Beast must learn to love Belle and earn her love in return.
The movie was entertaining. For Disney movie studios, it was a big hit and remains so today. A few months ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic, I watched it with one of our young granddaughters. She was transfixed like so many children that are drawn to a good story. We can sense that its meaning is more profound than we can easily explain.
One of our group, I wish I could remember who said that the Beast had difficulty controlling himself, but as the story unfolds, the Beast gains greater control over himself. The Beast is powerful, capable of destroying many things, and does so in the Disney movie. Belle learns to quiet the beastly attributes with her kindness and understanding. When the Beast gains control, learns to love, and attract love, he again becomes the Prince.
Power, strength, knowledge, personal control, and the decision not to misuse force is what our military strives to do. As officers in the world’s most powerful military, we were also like the Beast, powerful but keeping our destructive abilities in check. Those who have power and can control it are those who are most capable of being kind and doing good.
There is a similarity with often misinterpreted Biblical phrase, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). “Meek” is misunderstood. Originally written in Greek, the translation originally refers to those who have weapons and know how to use them but are determined to keep them sheathed. People who are capable of force but decide not to use it are those who are in the proper moral position.
Our discussions were free-ranging. I enjoyed this story of Beauty and the Beast. I often tell the story to our grandchildren. I also tell them what it means. It means that the strong who have control over themselves and are not resentful, are the ones who do good things for the world.
- In critical theory, a meta-story is a narrative about narratives of historical meaning, experience, or knowledge that offers a society legitimation through the anticipated completion of a yet unrealized master idea.
Great story and wonderful movie, even if Disney did make it, they made it before they went insane.
Well said Gen. Satterfield and maybe this is one of the reasons you and your mates were promoted so highly in the Army. Cheers!
Yep, and that is the reasons so many of us come here for insights and inspiration. Real leaders, proven in combat, and promoted to senior ranks within the US military; a highly competitive area.
It gives me confidence that so many military leaders are discussing such a wide range of ideas and the application of those ideas into leadership skill sets and into their personal character. We need people who are “good” (meaning ethical and not evil) in military leadership positions. There is no room for selfishness in the military. If you are there, it is for the betterment of all of us.
Correct, Greg and excellent point that should not be overlooked.
I looked up on the Internet the idea “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) and discovered what you said about how the term “meek” has become misused and misunderstood. Well done with this article. BTW, great thinking to link the Disney movie idea to this Bible verse.
Quotable quote “Those who have power and can control it are those who are most capable of being kind and doing good.” by Gen. Doug Satterfield. Thanks! I will remember it.
I agree with you JT. This goes against the narrative that masculinity is the cause of all the trouble in the world. I will add that evil will always exist and that it takes strength and honor to conquer it. Weakness, pandering (like so many politicians do), dishonor, and cowardice only encourages evil to grow and consume us.
If only more people understood this, the West would be a better place. The idea that we should discourage masculinity and manhood in our schools is emasculating boys and turning them into girls. Now we have a generation of young men who are confused, suicidal, mentally weak, and tend toward random violence and criminality.
Excellent points here gentlemen. Well said. I would like to see Gen. Satterfield elaborate more on this sometime in the future.
Same here. Thanks.
Yes, Wilson, we all like to watch these movies. They somehow grab us and pull our attention to them. I guess that is why Jordan Peterson, PhD and psychologist is so into the meta story issue. See his explanation below that Willie quoted for us.
My kids loved this movie, especially my daughter. I wonder why girls like it more than boys? Maybe it’s a fantasy that all girls have to be saved by the Prince or that boys don’t like to be seen as “wimpy” which could be a misinterpretation of the Beast when he falls in love with Belle? Anyway, good work bringing this to our attention. I’ll be paying closer attention when my family watches Beauty and the Beast the next time. ?
Nicely done, Gen. Satterfield. Good thing you remember some of those discussions with your friends. I’m glad you were able to share one today.
Everyone here might be interested in the discussion of “meta stories” by Dr. Jordan Peterson. Here he is discussing it in a YouTube video. Worth watching.
2017 Maps of Meaning 05: Story and Metastory (Part 1)
Right, Jonathan. This is how he describes the metastory from his talk on it:
“In this lecture, I make the case that we each inhabit a story, describing where we are, where we are going, and the actions we must undertake to get from the former to the latter. These inhabited stories are predicated on an underlying value system (as we must want to be where we are going more than we value where we are). In addition, they are frames of reference, allowing us to perceive (things that move us along; things that get in our way), make most of the world irrelevant (things that have no bearing on our current frame), and determine emotional significance (positive: things that move us along; negative: things that get in our way).”
Wow, makes some sense to me. I searched Jordan Peterson on YouTube and found hundreds of his lectures. I’ve listened to a few and found them fascinating. Highly recommended.
Thanks Willie for the info and to Jonathan for the link !!!!
Wow, excellent. I actually learned something today and one thing that I learned is applicable to what I do. Whenever I watch this movie in the future – Beauty and the Beast – I’ll have a better appreciation of it and what metastories are about. Well done. I would recommend that you do more of these in the future.
Well said, Scotty and yes I too learned something here. Of course, this is why I keep coming back to this leadership website.
Good points made by all. We all loved the Disney movie and most of them we enjoy. Looks like they are based upon old stories, historically from our past that have been around forever and resonate because they are about the human condition.
Yes, more interpretations will be appreciated by us all.
Very interesting, Gen. Satterfield. Way back then, you and your buddies were discussing ideas that have been around for a long time that most of us were not aware of.