Keeping score in life

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, October 25, 2022, 9:55 PM | comments: 0

I've read a number of different articles and viewed news stories about the desire to be heard, and not feeling heard, as one of the contributors to the general divisiveness in the US. I definitely get that, and certainly it's probably one of the primary reasons for the result of the 2016 election, and the reason it was somewhat close in 2020. If I put my amateur therapist hat on though, what I think I've been seeing for years is that there's a lot of scorekeeping going on. We know who the teams are, generally among racial and economic lines. I'll be quick to point out though that there isn't always moral equivalence in the scorekeeping. There's a big difference between "I don't want anyone to have what's mine" and "I just want to be treated fairly even though I'm a minority."

Keeping score may often be motivated by fear. I can't tell you how many people believe that anyone standing for equality is a socialist, and they want to take your money and your freedom. Certainly at the national level, neither of those things have happened despite the alleged "radical socialists" occupying the White House and Congress. But often at the local level, you can't get women's healthcare, it's harder to vote, there's censorship in schools and libraries, and it's not at the hands of socialists. The score, as it turns out, isn't simple.

But the bigger problem is that it is not a zero-sum game to score. My success does not need to come at the expense of others, and certainly their success does not need to come at the expense of mine. The inability to believe this is also, unsurprisingly, rooted in perspective. If you're a "have," you want to keep it that way, but if you're a "have not," you may believe that it isn't possible to ever cross the tracks. The world has become transactional to many people, and social discourse gives no reason to expect that to change.

There's a lot of scapegoating to go around, too. The right is steeped in racism and demagoguery, blaming anyone not like them for society's problems, while the left is convinced that any rich person or successful company is the problem. No wonder there's no agreement... these are both bullshit propositions fed by an impossible scoreboard. And while these two sides are also not morally equivalent, the left makes no friends by judging the rich (or for that matter, judging how much they may contribute to philanthropic causes). There is no reason we can't have rich people and not leave people behind. It doesn't have to be a choice.

People have become too transactional. For example, people will believe by this very statement that I must be dismissing the existence of racism and misogyny deeply ingrained in our culture. But if you know me at all, or even read this dumb blog, you know that's not the case. I can believe that people have become too transactional and those things, because I'm trying to not be so transactional. Our problems are hard and nuanced, and keeping score doesn't advance the conversation because it's off-putting. That doesn't mean pretending that the -isms aren't really bad right now, or perpetrated largely by a vocal minority. But as repugnant as those folks might be to you, comparing scores will not change their minds, and worse, they will not make a case for the moderates sitting on the fence. I imagine that they're the tipping point toward sanity. They mean well, but don't get involved, and we need them.

If you need a more personal example, I'm sure at some point (probably in your 20's) you've had that friend who drinks your beer and asks you to help them move, but the reverse is never true. You probably don't think about it, but they probably do. Your friendship is valuable to them because you give them free beer and help them move, that's the winning score. Only decades later do you think, "Wow, why was I friends with that guy?" Well, don't be that guy, and don't be the later-hater, no matter where you stand on issues. You don't have to be winning with whatever moral points you think you have, because you certainly won't advance the conversation that way. (This always reminds me of Obama's criticism of call-out culture and confusing that with activism.)

It may seem quaint or naïve, the idea that we can all be winners, but other nations are a lot closer to it than we are. They also don't treat politics like a sports rivalry.


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