Good and the Zero Sum Game

In recent years the term “zero sum game’ tends to pop up in conversation, lectures, editorials, sermons, and seminars. The term itself was coined by mathematicians and occupies a fair size page in Wikipedia.  The approach for this posting is going to address zero sum game from the perspective of the word ‘good’.  In conversation the term zero sum is often used to encourage generosity and open heartedness in a perceived harsh and competitive world. When the term is not used in the formal sense of mathematically based game theory, it most often comes up as a generalized encouragement not to worry too much about resources because life itself is not a zero sum game.  On the other side people argue that opposing or supporting an option is wrong or misplaced because ‘this is not a zero sum game’ That life is not to be summarized as a zero sum is, in my experience, comes across as mostly true but not wholly so in direct personal experience.  We are taught to believe the spiritual resources such as goodness, kindness, generosity, grace etc. come from an infinite source of fidelity and in that sense our faith in the source of spirituality ensures we will be taken care of despite the adversities of life on earth in this age. I think in my deepest most central self I believe in the truth of this last sentence. Yet, I ask myself almost on a daily basis in my search for the nature of goodness; “What happens to that truth when you live in a culture designed around the rules of zero sum and performance?” 

We live in a broad almost smothering culture that for the most part idolizes competition.  We create formats and rule sets that frame and force competition.  Competition is argued to lead to ever higher performance and performance may occupy a higher rung on the ladder of cultural value than competition. Even those folks who are not enamored with the NFL, NCAA or NBA or Survival television offerings may still be comparing and anticipating their children’s future capacity to perform in the competition for limited slots in the commercial life, college and university. Even the humble ballet class in Everytown America tends to generate fierce competition for the lead roles in the annual Christmas Nutcracker. My impression is in a culture obsessed with high performance, the tendency is to begin to perform your life rather than live your life. Giftedness rather than being experienced as living gift, becomes dead burden in a life lived as performance. Somehow when I see the mental health costs in our nation and culture I sense somehow this zero sum game, whatever you think of it, has become a dominate liability for America.

Unemployment with no prospects along with empty bank accounts and facing eviction with family in tow is one example of the sharp edge of a society overly devoted to competition and performance. Turning on the tap and having no fresh or safe water coming out is tomorrow’s new zero sum sharp blade. In the public sector if we choose to to compete for the dwindling fresh water river resources to enhance singular interest group’s performance, mother nature’s rules will take us to school to teach a tragic lesson regarding hopeless futile battles. Even in the arts, if we set up paradigms of exclusive limited tastes, the gift of expression and vocation will be suppressed in the name of false limits and staged zero sum.

This project is designed to take you home within yourself to where you actually live. The purpose of pausing is for you to experience the first moments of consideration as you choose the option. Your gift, whatever that gift is, resides in your intuition’s dance with your rational mind. In the dance between intuition and the work of rationality lies the possibility of living your good gifts rather than submitting them for acceptance on the exclusive alter of competition and performance. Competition and high performance are not in themselves negative pursuits and in fact can focus as well as improve energy and skill, but when they invade your capacity to live your gifts and instead strap the sum of your life to performance you are I believe in grave trouble. The “Good” this project called The Good Decision is promoting cannot be summed up in a single definition, but rather is the collective experience of living the good attributes with fidelity. The Pause for recalling and remembering your Sense of Good I suggest is building your insulation from the false zero sums of life. 

2 thoughts on “Good and the Zero Sum Game

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