Not a zero-sum game

I have been thinking lately about families and what makes them so important for the individuals in them. Of course there’s love and affection. Of course there is respect and consideration. And there also is loyalty. When I wrote a couple of days ago about competition and how it is unhealthy in the context of a family, I didn’t talk about one very important concept: the zero-sum game.

The zero-sum game, briefly is: A situation or interaction in which one participant’s gains result only from another’s equivalent losses. Source: here

Unfortunately, most of us go through life thinking it’s a zero-sum game. That’s why people are so competitive. “I can only win if the other guy loses.”

When my children were young, we had a book of cooperative games. Instead of “King of the Hill” where one person gets to the top of the hill and pushes all of the others down, the book recommended a game where as many people as possible get to the top of the hill and they cooperate to see how many they can hold up there. Games which foster cooperation also foster healthy relationships. Games like “Red Rover” where everyone is on the winning team help children understand that there doesn’t have to be a loser.

When family member achieve personal or professional expertise, other family members need to not just be happy for them, but to rejoice in it for themselves. Every strength of every member of the family only increases the others’ strength. As my children excel in areas I can’t even touch or understand, I feel personally enriched. I share in their happiness. And, fortunately, that is how they feel about each other.

Shel Silverstein said it well:

Yonatan and his little sister Naomi Elisheva

Yonatan and his little sister Naomi Elisheva

Hug O’ War

a poem by the late Shel Silverstein
[Author of A Light in the Attic]

I will not play at tug o’ war

I’d rather play at hug o’ war,

Where everyone hugs

Instead of tugs

Where everyone giggles

And rolls on the rug,

Where everyone kisses

And everyone grins

And everyone cuddles

And everyone wins.

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  1. It’s easy to see the picture was Photoshopped.

    • Actually, I am pretty sure it wasn’t. They were visiting Yosemite and there are a number of pictures of the children with similar (although not identical) backgrounds.

  2. Wow. Beautiful idea. Gorgeous picture and a moving poem.
    I like your ideas about fostering non-competitive games. I have boys and I find them naturally competing.
    A friend just recommended this book “I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression” and i leafed through it. I saw that it writes alot about competition. Did you read it ever? I wish I can find it here in Israel.