Which Game Are You Playing?

It’s fun to play games, and much of that fun can come from winning. If it’s a simple game, like checkers, it’s easy to keep score. For every checker you capture, your opponent loses one. Simple! This straight-forward approach is called a zero-sum game: “an advantage that is won by one of two sides is lost by the other” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-sum_game).

But not all games are zero-sum. It is possible to do well, say in a strategy game, and not win. Everyone can prosper, it’s just that the “winner” prospers a bit more.

I’ve been thinking about this while following our national discussions on pertinent issues, especially with regard to race. Many of the viewpoints seem to be rooted in unease, even fear, a trepidation that seems to come from the idea that if anyone in a lower economic or social standing progresses, they’re going to have to pause, give something up, or maybe even regress. In other words, we’re in a zero-sum situation.

But are we really? Take the stock market — five years ago, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average stood at 18, 552. Yesterday it closed at 35,625. Everyone who owned these stocks shared in the increase; everyone is better off. This is the opposite of zero-sum.

So what does that have to do with our current social/political situation? It seems that everyone — the country as a whole — is better off than it was at any time in the past. Overall, we have better communications, better transportation, a longer lifespan, and are more educated that we were, say two hundred years ago. Yet, despite the obvious progress, some still react as if someone else is winning, they must be losing. Seriously?

So which game are you playing?

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