Some people are told there is no Santa Claus. Their dick cousin tells them, as vengeance for a lost game of Monopoly Junior. Or they saw Gremlins.
Others figure it out on their own. I was one of these. It took me eight years of cognitive development to get there. The physical impossibility and the logistical improbability pressed at my young mind, but the biggest question I had was one of motivation.
At eight years old, I had recently begun to understand money. I’d come to understand that one Breyer Horse was equal to approximately one thousand years of untouched allowance. I’d also begun my education in the concept of Stranger Danger. I had a newly honed ability to scrutinize adults for their intentions.
And I found myself wondering, “If this old man has such limitless wealth and power, what is his angle in using it to buy presents for children he’ll never meet?”
So I asked my parents, and they confirmed. “Yeah, that’s a thing adults made up to incentivize kids to conform to behavioral expectations,” they said, in so many words.
The thing is, Santa Claus is not an isolated incident. False or greatly exaggerated incentives exist everywhere to compel you to behave yourself. I’d like to talk about one of those false incentives today. The merit-based promotion is a comforting myth that took me thirty years to unravel. Much like with Santa, it was a rude awakening, but I’m much happier knowing the truth.