Pick Your Game Wisely

Here’s the transcript from our second Friday Night Campfire of our Olympic session. Hope you enjoy!

It’s a beautiful evening here by Sly Lake and I’m definitely missing you. I’ve had one camper here this week: Luke Kelly has been up weed-whacking and helping keep the place looking good. Why put in the effort? Well… we love Weequahic and don’t want the grounds to lose their luster. We’ve got to have this place looking good for our Fall Tours and Family Days. I’ll be in touch with you all soon about those ideas!

Attitude & Values

Tonight, as it’s the second of our Olympic Session campfires, is all about attitude. We’ve talked about it a lot but just to refresh your memory, your attitude is how you react to the world and people around you. This is typically a reaction that is reflected in a your behavior.

We talk a lot about choosing your attitude, that we all have a space between stimulus and response that gives us the chance to choose how to respond… if we work on it.

But, I’ve got a question. Where does your attitude come from? What drives your reactions?

It’s a pretty big question and I certainly don’t have all the answers. But, having worked with kids and staff for so long and thinking about it out loud with friends, I’m pretty certain I know a big part of it: your values.

To me, values are the ideas and habits you hold dear. These are the things you hold at your center, those baseline assumptions that animate and focus your thoughts, actions and habits.

If that’s the case, then it would be important to find out our values. I heard one very smart person say check your calendar and your checkbook. Whatever you spend the most time doing or money on, that’ll give you a good idea on what you value most.

But it’s not just what you are doing. A lot of times, how you are doing it that matters just as much if not more.

Games We Play

For example, say you spend 2 hours playing Fortnite each day. Pre-covid, I would say, nope, terrible waste of time. But, if it’s a way to stay connected with your friends around the world, ok, I get it. If the reason you are playing is because you are deepening healthy connections, great. If you are just playing Fortnite by yourself or with randoms, then it’s more about the game, isn’t it?

The same thing goes for social media. Are you putting a lot of good out into the world or just consuming or using social media as a way to make it all about you? I’ve recently gotten on Twitter to see what all the fuss is about and have spotted some pretty easy models of people who tear down and those who build up. (I’m following the latter!)

Whether its Fortnite or Tiktok or basketball or robotics or singing, they are all games, aren’t they?

Games of Insight

Actually, playing games is my favorite way to get a glimpse of a person’s values and their attitudes. One of the reasons we have such a long orientation is to get just that view on our staff. The games we set up for them to play will tell us a lot about their values and their attitudes.

Sometimes, though, they don’t even know the game they are playing. It could be an example of an EA that we do for the kids and someone gets way too competitive. That tells us something. Another game we play is a series of ‘get to know you’ games. Those don’t take the games seriously at all… that tells us something, too.

I find myself the same way sometimes – not knowing which game I’m playing. (Kate is really good at reminding me!) It’s really easy to get pulled into games that look really fun but are actually not great for you in the long term. For example, maybe you want to do something that has a lot of risk but a big possible payout – like gambling. If you win, wow! But if you lose, yikes. And, in gambling, you lose a lot more than you win.

There are some important things to know about games.

We All Play

First, you’ve got to realize you are always playing a game. Human interactions can – and I stress can – have winners and losers. The best games those in which everyone wins. For example, when you are on a robotics team for your school and everyone is pulling for and supporting each other, you feel great! Sure, you want to win the competition but the bigger game that you are actually playing is the friendship game, the connection game. In fact, you’ll remember those relationships longer than you will anything else about the experience.

The worst of games? Those in which no one wins. Take for example something that may sound crazy but is actually true: rat wrestling.

There is really, really interesting study done with rats and the games they play together. It turns out that rats are really playful. Had I not really enjoyed Ratatouille, I doubt I would have been as open to this idea. But it’s true – they really like to play with one another. That’s not the really interesting thing about it, though.

When rats of unequal size play together – say a big one and a little one – the big one will win 10 out of 10 times if they are both going at it with all they have. But here’s the cool thing: the bigger rat allows the smaller rat to win 3 or 4 times out of ten. Why? Because the big rats wants to keep playing and knows instinctually that if the little one loses all the time, it’ll stop playing completely. And where is the fun in that?

The bigger rats is strengthening the game by allowing the little one to win. In that situation, they both win – the little one gets to play and improve and the bigger one gets to play and build a stronger, more lasting game.

Why Are You Playing?

This dovetails nicely into the second big thing to know about games: Why are you playing it? What’s the motivation? What’s the end goal?

The rats are playing for amusement and skill development and exercise and connection. When we play in tournaments at Weequahic, it’s to do something together that builds memories and deepens our connections. Sure, it’s nice if we win but a lot of times there are more lasting memories that lead to connection from loses. (Luke Boals, I know you were in-bounds last summer. I just know it!)

Why are you playing the social media game or the fortnite game or the look-at-me-school-game or any others. I’m not saying any one of those are good or bad. I’m just asking a question: why are you playing that game?  It’s important to know because it’ll influence your attitude in many aspects. And that has ramifications in a far more important sphere: the relationships you enjoy or don’t with those around. Which leads to the final important piece about games:

How are you playing it?

Are you playing just for yourself or for others? Are you making it a stronger game for just yourself or for everyone that is playing the game?

Here’s the thing – no game is the same all the time. It either can get better or it can get worse. There really is no in between. Why? Because things and people change all the time. If you aren’t growing and strengthening, you’ll be moving the other way.

Unless they keep growing for all who are playing, games (just like life) can devolve into either chaos or tyranny. Chaos basically means that nothing is going great and everyone is in it for themselves. Tyranny means there is one or a small group who runs the game. No one really wins in either situation.

I was thinking about this while sitting under the huge pines at Weequahic. Seeing our treetops reminded me of a really interesting idea that has been passed down by generations. It’s the idea of life being represented by an enormous tree.

Tree of Life

If you’ve ever seen the movie Thor or read the comic books, you may know the Norse idea of the Life Tree or Yggdrasil as they call it. It’s a really neat image. Imagine this enormous growing tree whose roots are being fed by streams of fresh water. It’s growing up to the heavens and firmly rooted in the ground. But, at the base of the tree is a huge snake which is eating the roots. Not more than the growth to manage but it’s still eating the tree nonetheless.

This tree is in balance – growing and being destroyed – all at the same time.

The Norse aren’t the only culture to talk about this ‘life tree’ idea. The tree metaphor are big in Greek, Roman, Baltic, early Native American cultures. In fact, in the Judeo-Christian ethic has two trees playing very prominently roles: the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Old Testament and the Cross in the New Testament.

In all of these stories, one side of the tree is reaching downward while the other side is always reaching up. The trick to a healthy tree is to keep the balance of the chaos or destruction at the bottom and reaching ever higher for growth which comes from the sun and the rain.

Games are the same way – you can either reach for the situations that are just about you, that fill only your bucket, that answer your own needs. Or, you can stretch to find win-win situations in which everyone prospers, including the game itself. You can ignore the rules everyone are using to play the game and create more chaos or you can, through connection and care, help the game evolve into something even greater in a way that lifts all boats.

Choose Wisely

It’s up to you. I know it may sound a little daunting but every interaction you have with another – even when you don’t know you are having it – influences those around you. Your attitude – how you react, how you carry yourself, how you engage with those around you – is completely contagious. Want to experiment? Go give someone a huge, genuine smile and see what happens. I bet they smile back.

My challenge to you this week: think about the values that drive your daily reactions and choices, your habits and thoughts. Speak to a loved one about them. Sometimes its easier for others to see these than it is to see them ourselves.

Campers, talk with your parents about the values that drive your family. Once you know these values, you can better identify and pick the games you want to play and decide how to play them.

So, go on – go play!

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