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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?