Is your world an apple pie or a candle?

Is your world an apple pie or a candle?

Strange question, I know.  Bear with me.

I’ve been writing from Ohio the past two weeks while on my bi-annual “Grandma Janet Road Trip.”  I landed at my younger son’s home around midnight a week ago and went off to see my granddaughters play soccer the next afternoon. Though it’s been simmering for a few years, today’s post emerged from that afternoon soccer game.


Sunday afternoon, October 1, was a beautiful day in northeastern Ohio: clear, sunny, though a bit on the breezy side.  Both granddaughters had games that afternoon on the same field. First game was Kendall’s–she’ll be eleven later this month–and the teams were evenly matched, we thought, with no score until the second half when the opposing side made their single goal.

Winners and losers, the game of life, I began to think.  It’s good to know how to be a good winner, but even better to know how to be a good loser. The conversation I planned to have later with Kendall was building in my mind.


Thanks to for the image.


And then, quite unexpectedly, as her team hovered near the defended goal, Kendall’s teammate kicked the ball across the field to Kendall who settled the ball quickly and kicked it in (with her left foot, to boot!)  The game ended in a tie shortly afterward and everyone went home quite happy.


Here’s Kendall (pink headband) controlling the ball in an earlier part of the game. How big the other team members are!
Here’s Kendall, in green, trapping the ball.


We’d not be having any winners and losers conversation this day.

Isn’t that the ideal? I got wondering as we journeyed home. Why must there be a dichotomy at all? Why can’t everyone win?  And this blog post began to form. Competition, it seems to me, has lately become nasty. Winners, by definition, imply losers.  More for one, these days, has come to imply less for everyone else.

Fairly quickly this post morphed into one on zero-sum game, a term I first heard during my life-in-academia era. Today, I’m hoping to bring it further into everyday conversation.

It’s a lovely term really, as is its twin, nonzero-sum game.

What is zero-sum game?


Winners and losers.

A pie is often used as metaphor for a zero-sum situation where the more one person has, the less there is for the rest of the group.  Distributing the apple pie at Thanksgiving is a zero-sum game. That’s why we always make three.

With thanks to for the image

Zero-sum situations abound. All players do not go home from a poker game equally happy. Or the boxing ring, or the chess match, or the ballot box. One’s personal budget is another. There are legitimate zero sum game situations in this life. I don’t wish to imply otherwise. Got the idea? Good, let’s move on to the opposite.


What is the “nonzero-sum game” concept?

That’s where the candle comes in.

Thanks to for this image.

If you light your candle from my candle, mine is not diminished.

Love and beauty are often given as examples here too.  And, to return briefly to my grandchildren, remembering I choose to live in a candle world when I have to share them with their many other grandparents, has been helpful. That they love their Nana or their Mimi, need not imply that they love their Gramma (me) any less.

I had one grandparent growing up and I was her only grandchild.  That was my model of grandparenting. It’s taken me awhile to learn how to share. Finally, I understand that having so many who love them is a fantastic gift and one I’d not want to take away from them.


with thanks, again, to for this meme.

Compromise, feminism, arms control treaties, buying an antique (or anything) from a dealer who haggles are (in my opinion) examples of nonzero-sum games, as are soccer games that end in a tie score. You’ve heard of the “win-win situation,” surely.

Here’s the challenge for me.

I’ll latch onto a concept–water and power are my latest–and wonder (to myself until now),  is there enough to go around? Is this zero-sum or nonzero-sum?  (Water, by the way, worldwide, is definitely zero-sum; there is simply not enough. Power, on the other hand, is–at least in the way I want to look at power–a nonzero-sum; the more power you have over what you ought to control (yourself), the better off I am: your power does not diminish mine. I am, however, open to other points of view.)


How about you? Are you living in an apple pie or a candle world? 


12 Responses

  1. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Like you, I live in both worlds. We have a president who definitely wants the whole pie, in every way for himself–and all the power, too. But yes, there is always enough love to go around, there is always enough kindness, etc.
    Congratulations to your granddaughter on her soccer prowess.
    Merril Smith recently posted…Hope: QuadrilleMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks for starting us off Merril. This post focused for a time on Power as nonzero-sum, in a world where that seems so foreign. But I just plain got tired of the politics of it. I’d like to have spent a few months tinkering with it. Alas.

  2. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Your metaphors are choice, Janet. And I choose the candle world, living as I do under the roof of hope, not despair.

    I also live in a soccer world, attending my grandson’s games when I can. Now nearly 14, he’s been playing soccer since he was five and has trophies to prove it. Interestingly, in the early years no one talked about scores. Kids played for the fun of it and to gain skill. Now coaches keep score, probably with serious intent, thinking they are preparing players for the “real world.”

    Grandparents like you (and me) can show the next generation how candles light the world. Provocative post!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Memoir Writing, Myth and Mystery: In Search of the Narrative ArcMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      How candles light the world! I love it, Marian. Thanks much.

  3. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — What a great post. Thank you. As an unabashed optimist, I choose the candle world!
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted…Lighten UpMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks, Laurie. I thought of you as I was putting this together. Knew you’d choose the candle (which was originally a campfire, then had a short life as a tiki torch).

  4. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Great post, Janet! It’s amazing how ideas can pop up during a grandchild’s soccer game ( what a great player Kendall is). I vote for the candle metaphor…our world is brighter when we share our light.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      “our world is brighter when we share our light.” Oh yes, Kathy. Thanks for that.

  5. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Janet, I’m inclined to say “candle,” since it resonates with me most closely, although it’s probably a mix of both. There are areas, such as finances, where I’ve certainly scrapped and saved for what I have perceived to be “my share of the pie.” Like it or not, in certain respects at least, we live in a zero-sum-minded world (or at least “nation”), and I can’t rely upon our collective abundance or the generosity of others to get my girls through college or to survive the back 50 of life. I give (I like to think generously), both in terms of time and money, but always in measured doses. Both — time and money — are finite, at least as they pertain to us as individuals.

    Other things — like individual liberty, for example — should never be confined to the “pie” mentality, as if some finite resource to be divvied up and fought over. Extending freedom to the oppressed does not shrink the pool of freedom for the non-oppressed, but rather expands it for all. People often don’t seem to grasp this.

    Perhaps another way to think of it all is in terms of “abundance” versus “scarcity.” If we embrace an abundance mindset, it almost doesn’t matter whether most things are finite or infinite, because when we focus on the abundance of the world, we will see that the pies we often fight over are much larger than some would have us believe. I.e., there is an abundance of most of what we need to make the world a better place.
    Tim Fearnside recently posted…The Other Men and Women Who Fought and Died for FreedomMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      A scarcity vs an abundance worldview; of course, Tim.
      Thanks for bringing that in. I’m finding more and more that when I’m miserable, it’s often because I’m hooked into that scarcity, zero-sum mindset. If I can just (“just;” yeah right) switch to one celebrating abundance, I feel lighter. Practice makes progress. Thanks for stopping.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Is your world an apple pie or a candle?My Profile

  6. Nigel William
    | Reply

    Hi, Janet! What an amazing point of view! I have to admit, I was confused when I read a title, but now it makes perfect sense. I can help but think that we live in a mostly pie world, but I`m happy when I see that there are people like you who share great messages and ideas that can change the way people think. Do you think that at one point we can turn this world into a candle world, altogether?
    Nigel William recently posted…The Best Axes & Hatchets for Camping, Backpacking, Hiking & Survival – 2017 Review & Buying GuideMy Profile

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