(This post originally appeared on the New Relic Blog)
Sing to me, sing to me, lands far away,
Oh, rise up and guide me this wandering day.
Please promise to find me this wandering day.
. – Poppy Proudfellow, “The Rings of Power”
One of the wonderful insights I gained as I watched “Rings of Power” was the clear sense of the core essence of each group, what fundamental ethic they ascribed to.
Elves, for example, strive for harmony above all other things. Their buildings mirror the surrounding natural landscape; their language practically glides along the air currents between speaker and listener; their weapons act as an extension of the person wielding them; and their writing flows on the page as if the ink were merely following the already-present curves in the fibers themselves.
Meanwhile Dwarves seek value. Not monetary value, but intrinsic, durable, possibly everlasting value. Their tools are built to withstand the test of time and use; their writing etched so deep into the stone that millenia can pass and the words will still be readable; their excavations are meant not only to expose the ore and gems they seek, but to make the entire mountain both stronger and more livable as a result.
Orcs, as may be obvious, seek power. Theirs is a strict hierarchy of domination and submission in all things, from personal interactions to their geo-political activities to their relationship with the physical world around them.
And what of hobbits? What I saw was that, for all their migratory and wandering nature, what hobbits seek most of all is comfort. For sure, comfort for themselves: tasty berries to eat and warm beds to lie down on; but also a desire that everyone around them should be equally comfortable and comforted.
But what’s the lesson for us? That, like the varied people of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, our tech career and work must come from a place of honesty about who we are. A hobbit can certainly make a go of life among Dwarves (and vice-versa) but it’s never going to quite fit. We need to be honest with ourselves about our fundamental, essential core. What motivates and drives us? What scares us? What bores us? What repulses us? Only when we understand that can we find our place within the work.
But our place within the work is only the start. Certainly we have to find our comfort zone, and build from there. But once we have that, the true adventure lies in going out into the wild world (or at least the wild IT department) and seeing what else is out there.
Elrond didn’t remain in Linden. He made friends with his Dwarven neighbors and even learned their language and culture. Humans, both in Numenor and the mainland of Middle Earth, learned Elvish. And of course the harfoots took the risk of welcoming a stranger who fell out of the sky into their homes, and may as a result have created the bond of friendship and respect that ultimately saved the world.
But I think the best example of this can be seen in three small moments from the arc of that stranger from the sky: after learning the meaning of the word “peril,” the stranger exclaims “I’m peril!” Nori reassures him that no, “You’re good.” But it’s clear that in the stranger’s mind the truth of this is still very much in question. In one of the climactic moments of the series, the stranger again expresses his fear that he’s essentially bad, and this time Nori retorts, “You choose by what you do!” This time, the stranger is convinced. As he defeats three evil entities, the stranger shouts, possibly as much to himself as to anyone else, “I’m good!!”
We may start from a core set of values, but ultimately who we are will be determined by the work we choose to do, whether it comes naturally and easily or requires daily effort and struggle.
Pushing ourselves to work outside our comfort zone will yield many benefits, but chief among them is making friends with folx who aren’t like us. Yes, I’m saying the dev and the DBA can not only get along, they can be allies and a powerful force for good within the organization.
We see this in the series with the aforementioned Elrond and Durin. We also see how Nori and the stranger allow friendship to overcome initial confusion and missteps. Miriel, the Regent of Numenor, and Galadriel work past history, mistrust, and politics to forge a powerful alliance. But it’s perhaps most evident in the relationship of Arondir and Bronwyn. “You are the only kind touch I’ve known in all my days in this land” may be one of the more overtly romantic lines in a series focused on politics and the struggle for survival, but it’s equally powerful if we take it at face value. It doesn’t take much to make someone feel welcome, worthy, valid, and accepted. When we do, it can (literally) change someone’s world.
But there’s one other friendship that has to be called out, and that’s the one between Galadriel and Halbrand. While it’s ultimately revealed that Halbrand is, in fact, Sauron in disguise, the truth is that the actor (and even some of the writers for the show) were left in the dark about that detail. Until the final episode, Halbrand was as much a mystery—seemingly created out of whole cloth for the series—as Nori, Arondir, Bronwyn, and others. And in that time, the growing respect between elf and human was an incredible example of the way everything can change (for the better) when we take the time to get to know those around us.
Believe it or not I still have a few more thoughts to share with you beyond what’s here and in the previous post. So if you can remain of good faith and strong heart, the next entry will tie things together nicely, I think.
Until that happy day…