Power Plays, Part II

by Penrod

“The real game is the game you are in.”

It’s difficult to play most positions. To play well takes practice. There have been a number of aging veterans who, because of their bats, are moved to first base where they can take it easy and not be a liability in the field. Not that first base is actually that easy. Each position requires focus and singleness of purpose. “Keep your eye on the ball” is a trustworthy admonition. If you have played first base, you know it takes practice to scoop up one-hoppers and to keep your foot on the bag as you stretch for a throw from across the infield.

When it comes to our positions in life, there may be important areas where we need practice. We may have tough positions to play, or find that a way of being or of doing something that was once a strong game (at least, so we thought) no longer works. “She doesn’t laugh at the my jokes anymore.” If it weren’t for game metaphors and the reality behind them, I don’t know how we would ever manage. When playing sports or doing a job, we are usually not so silly as to think we can get good or do well without practice.

A huge difficulty here is moral judgment. It seems to be part of the environment or of our condition to instantly make moral judgments, self-condemnations in particular. In spite of all the damage it does, we often think it is our conscience and that we should heed the voice that tells us we have been out of line. “You are wrong, you are deficient.” It’s really dumb. We even think, “Either I really am the dummy I always knew I was” or “That’s just the way I am. I can’t do anything about it.” At which point, we might throw up our hands and end in despair. There is no where to go from here.

But we have the example of games and skills to set us straight. First off, lack of skill or making a mistake are not moral issues when you are learning to play the violin. You know it takes practice. You can tell. So can everybody else.

Same with the way we handle ourselves and the way we inhabit the world and encounter our families and neighborhoods.

A few of the positions we play in life are son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, husband, wife, teacher, musician, factory worker, waiter, customer, and so on. Sometimes they are impositions. We don’t have a choice. Sometimes we want a position — let’s say working with your dad or being a companion with your brother or someone’s favorite playmate or being the starting pitcher.

Our subject is the anatomy of power plays. Last issue I observed the relentless, daily, planting of the seed of friendship and acceptance by the California Prison Teacher upon the hostile young man. Saying “Have a good day” each morning and meaning it is a power play.

My main position is husband (I am also a father, friend, household manager, neighbor, citizen). When I think of the complexities of the situations I am in, I begin to move away from the “power play” metaphor to a “playing well” metaphor. Making a “good enough” play. Also, sometimes we get beat. There is no other way we could have played that would have made a difference. Facts are facts.

The question for a person who wants to play his or her position well in times of difficulty is “How can I play my position as best I can under the circumstances?” Maybe, using baseball, it’s the 7th inning. You are down by 5 runs because of the error you made in the 3rd inning. The game looks hopeless. If you had your way you’d quit this game and start over. That’s not an option. The only thing a ball player can do is play as well as he or she can under the circumstances.

If I am to regain my wife’s affections, I may need some new moves stop stop trying to make plays that don’t work. I can argue in my mind that she’s the one who has changed or should change or should apologize, but that’s her position to play. I can only play mine. There are no guarantees that playing well will mean everything will turn out the way I want it to or turn out well for others.

We have yet to look at some of the main positions and consider plays and practice methods for use in our interpersonal lives. We will get to that next time. For the present, ask yourself these questions: “How have I managed to make it this far?” and “what’s working?”

Penrod says that, in thinking about him, one should think first of Booth Tarkington's Penrod, the boy writer, and then of the mighty pen of Martin Luther with its power like unto the rod of Aaron.

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