184. Cooperative Games

My friend Mara Sapon-Shevin does workshops around the world on inclusion and cooperation. She tells participants about the game “musical chairs,” which, in its traditional form, is competitive, and results in more and more exclusion. In a variation on this game, described by Mara, one chair is removed each time the music stops, but no people are removed. Everyone has to figure out a way to fit all the people on the remaining chairs.
That’s more like it. We’re all going to have to figure out a way to live together on this planet, or we’re in big trouble. When the music stops, as it often does, we’ve got to figure out a way to make room for each other. If each person’s goal is just to make sure she/he has a place, eventually there will be many more have-nots than haves everywhere. It could easily be argued that such is already the case in most places.
I’ve written a few articles that have referred to competitive games. Those games really are part of life as it’s been so far. Professional sports, Olympic sports, and the games organized by the neighborhood kids usually create lots of losers. They create winners, too, and to some degree, they’re fun to play and fun to watch. I know many kind, gentle people who are nevertheless into the thrill of victory (though not too many are crazy about the agony of defeat).
I don’t think we’re going to quickly move to cooperative games. Competition is too much a part of who we humans are, and perhaps especially who we Americans are. For a long time, I thought I wasn’t competitive, but I was. I just wasn’t a winner. Since I lost a lot, I thought I’d successfully rejected competition. But a friend made me realize that losing is still part of competition; if I’d completely rejected competition, I would be neither a winner nor a loser.
A long time ago, a child I knew said to me, “It’s not whether you win or lose that counts. It’s whether you win.” It often seems that way. We compete all the time against life’s tendency to get in our way. We push ourselves to do more than we can, and we sometimes end up winning. When we do, it’s a good feeling. But I think there are enough challenges in just plain old living. I don’t think we need to emphasize competition against each other as much as we do. We can get where we’re going without stepping on each other.

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