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Soulful Sundays: Infinite Games

"All conflict is the result of inner conflict." -I Ching

"The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself." - Sun Tzu

If you have ever studied the game of chess you will eventually pick up on the two essential elements for victory--attack and defense. Some players focus too much on attack and leave their ranks wide open for counters, while others play too defensively and ultimately end up just reacting to their opponent's moves. What separates a good chess player from a great one is the simultaneous use of attack and defense so that the two are inseparable. They have developed a unified strategy where every move improves not just their position, but their opportunities to take advantage of their opponent's mistakes. Of course, there is a third element, which separates the great chess players from the truly exceptional. A deep love and curiosity for the game.

In his book Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse writes about human psychology and sociology by looking at game theory. He makes a compelling argument for our species moving away from zero-sum thinking (in which there are winners and losers) and towards positive-sum thinking (in which everyone benefits). He calls the zero-sum games "finite" and positive-sum ones "infinite." So-called infinite games seek to include as many players (winners) as possible. In our modern world there are enough resources to comfortably feed and house every human being, yet millions die each year from starvation and exposure. Meanwhile, 50% of the world's resources are owned by the richest 1% of our population. The inertia that is built into this system of pyramidal wealth is at first daunting, but there is a small chink in the armor of this juggernaut, I assure you.

And that chink is....


You have the agency right now to start playing more infinite, positive-sum games. You have the ability to assign value to qualities and activities that are independent of fame and wealth. To take the time to shop more locally. To make a point of talking with your neighbors. To elect to read a book or play with friend instead getting sucked up into social media. To eat and exercise just to feel good instead of meeting some arbitrary body image. To slow down and laugh more. These activities create more joy in more people and help the keep the game (of life) in motion. When we seek to "win" at the expense of others we give into the fear that there is not enough to go around. The world's tropical rainforests contain over half of the world's biodiversity despite the fact that they only cover 2% of the world's land mass. The reason that they are so rich in life is that every specie's existence creates opportunities for other species to thrive.

I often get the feeling that I am making things harder than they need to be, using up precious resources fighting battles that are contradictory to my end goals, and seeking out easy wins to fuel my ego instead of investing in the long game. If you are like me, then the solution to these frustrations might be staring you right in the face. First make sure that you are playing a game that you enjoy. Second, start looking for ways to ensure that the game will continue. The best players are the ones who are the most generous with their time and advice. No one wants to keep playing with an asshole, no matter how talented they are. I'll see you out on the field!

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