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Zero Sum Game

I have come to the conclusion that the world we live in has become a zero sum game. For someone to win, someone else has to lose an equal amount. Of course that is so much garbage. Bill Gates won, becoming a zillionaire, while at the same time creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, hundreds of millionaires, and from what I can see, no one lost anything, unless you count the people who are still stuck with Windows Vista.

However, if you read the main stream press, you find that there is no possibility for anything to happen in government if the winners don’t completely trounce and destroy the losers. We seem to be caught in a conundrum. Not only must I win, but I must continue to hate you, you loser.

Last week an editor for the Los Angeles Times wrote a piece where she told the story of a next door neighbor who, unasked, plowed her driveway, and from all accounts did a stellar job. The problem? He was of a different political persuasion from her and she didn’t know just how to react. After calling him virtually every possible negative in her article, she still couldn’t bring herself to truly ‘thank’ the good deed. She twisted herself into knots assuming that the plowing was in some way a bribe to her to come over to his way of thinking. After all, for him to win, she must lose. If you have any interest, you can read the article here.

Buddhists talk about the “middle way.” Which refers to the Buddhist understanding of practical life, avoiding the extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence, as well as the view of reality that avoids the extreme positions of eternalism and annihilationism. In other words, extremes on all sides can be detrimental.

I’m not saying that everything should be cut right down the middle. How boring a world if there were no bumps along the way. Steel is forged in extreme heat. Without that ‘pain’ it would be soft and useless. We need argument, we need conflict. That’s how we learn and grow. However when the combatants fight to the death, when the winners never win enough, we all lose.

There must be a better way. Perhaps not as ‘meh’ as a cut down the middle, but a way to understand that I can win through some compromise, and perhaps to understand that my opponent is not the devil incarnate but simply has a different idea, opinion, or position. He or she may be wrong, but not evil.

Is it possible that the neighbor who plowed the snow covered driveway simply felt it was the right thing to do? The only ulterior motive was kindness. That everything isn’t about politics, or race, or who hates who.

Perhaps this should be a time of self reflection. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to look inward and truly analyze our feelings. How scary it must be to believe that half the people in America are evil. Even the guy who plows your driveway.

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3 Responses to Zero Sum Game

  1. Marc Slavin says:

    John, This is one of the best articles I have read of yours.

  2. rta says:

    Very insightful, and the analogies are spot on.

    Just like many industries and markets throughout the world, is it possible that our basic social/political structure is going thru it’s own “disruption” period and we’re simply trying to find the balance in this new age of social media, 24/7 news and a world where “reactive” is the new “proactive”? Eventually people will begin to realize we do not now, nor have we ever shared the same viewpoint or opinion on all matters, even with the best of friends. We will find that middle ground once again, and get to that place of “equanimity” that Buddhism strives for. Just hope we get there sooner rather than later.

  3. JVH says:

    I’m honored that two of the smartest guys in the business liked this post. Thanks

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