Despite being given a bad rap these days when every child wins a prize and any tall poppy can be cut down to size, competition remains a valid and valuable developmental tool for human endeavour and personal maturity. Games and organised sport have proven important personal and community pursuits.
Occasional disputes over the rules or who has won do not invalidate the value of playing the game. In a civil society, issues at dispute can be debated and changes negotiated without resorting to violence and destruction, whether social or physical. Life can move on, improved. Respect and acceptance of the outcome will see us through if we all understand common parameters of the game and share common values.
It’s hard to be sure today, when cancel culture dominating the air waves has overturned much of what is known and understood from centuries of evolution of western civilization. Until recently in this country, it was given that all people were equal before the law and we enjoyed freedom of speech and choice, based on enlightened Judeo-Christian traditions.
Decline in practice of religion has led to two outcomes – decline of common values and the need to fill the faith vacuum with new beliefs of other gods, perhaps even becoming a god oneself – the very thing scriptures warn against. As ever, power, money and moral superiority are the incentives. Judge not lest you too be judged we were advised.
Values have certainly become more diverse in this era of disruption and there has been a significant decline in respect for alternative perspectives. While we might try to learn from the prevailing message, it is hard to get involved when the message constantly changes, as does the game.
Take for instance the issue of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. A lot of protest, anger, hatred and destruction directed against innocent parties, even black people and businesses, often by whites claiming virtue and purpose. The game changes when underlying truths are exposed and a black person pronounces that “all lives matter”. Trolls pile in to destroy the character and standing of the “traitor” to the black cause. Rules of the game’s code are no longer understood as in the original handbook of the bible or the footy, but become fascist interpretations of whoever chooses to take offence first and fastest. Truth, history and respect have no part in the game.
These days as we are divided into in identity groups (skin colour, gender, gender preference, climate change, religion) the zeitgeist can approve of our particular victim hood with empathy and feel good about it. Problems and opprobrium arise when sections are crossed.
JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame and a strong supporter of feminism found out just how badly when running afoul of the transphobic Twitterati defining woman by their gender identity and capability to menstruate. The ensuing pile-on sought to discredit Rowling and everything else she had achieved for this grievous misdemeanour according to the transgender bible of the day. Rowling’s approval for gender preference lost out on her definition of women in the intersectional game.
We have certainly come a long way in the acceptance of LGBQTI identification and gay marriage, but when innocent words, deliberately misinterpreted, can cause such a global wave of hostility in cancel culture, it makes one long for the old days when understanding of the rules of the game were simple and well understood. Unconscious bias and preferred pronouns seem so remote from those of us battling along in a COVID era, too busy to take offence.
You would think that Jacinta Price, an outspoken, articulate aboriginal woman with particular leadership qualities would attract support on gender and colour identities. Jacinta’s failing, according to the moral gods of now, is that she is honest about aboriginal on aboriginal violence and community dysfunction, challenging aborigines to greater responsibility. At the same time Jacinta acknowledges the countless, costly ways that indigenous Australians receive special support from the broader community. Because her pragmatic approach aimed at truly advancing aborigines does not comply with the accepted narratives of institutional racism, colonial exploitation and white supremacy, Jacinta suffers relentless abuse from moral arbiters.
Yet even in our simple day to day lives we can be affected by the games people play. Take the marriage where the wife demands that unless the husband (or vice versa) improves his performance she will leave. So he gets professional advice and makes a valiant attempt to shore up the relationship by complying with her wishes. To no avail. The game changes and there are new demands to be met. She leaves anyway. He can’t win.
Or take the young mother who judged the children’s grandmother to be ‘unworthy’ because the birthday greetings and gifts were inadequate. Even the grandmother’s concerted effort to upgrade presents on a limited budget made no impact on the referee. The rules changed and the grandchildren were denied the gifts. The grandmother had no chance of scoring; ultimately refusing to participate in a “game” without respect or fairness that she could not win, even if it meant no access to grandchildren by the almighty judge.
Similar unreasonable demands can be made in a workplace, or between a contractor and consultant. Unrealistic time frames and under-resourcing put pressure on the worker who must deliver the output. The person paying holds the power of referee in the game. Where respect and fairness prevail, both parties may be satisfied. Yet it is not unknown for limitations of the “referee” being projected onto the person expected to deliver to judge the work unsatisfactory and refuse to pay, or even worse, expect payment for the inconvenience of being unreasonable. Situations like this can occur even when the parameters are spelled out clearly at the beginning of the work.
Conversely, when people understand the rules of the “game” and comply willingly, everyone can advance happily. Having moved house recently I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter fair play and experience the good cheer that accompanied it.
When movers arrived at the house, they went through what I had ordered and what was expected of them. Costs were clarified and methods of payment. Then cheerily they went about their business, two strong young blokes working in seamless tandem. On arrival at the new abode the same attitude prevailed, though they had to manage to move via a lift. Each was respectful and careful of the furniture and equipment, clarifying position and arrangement. Costs were confirmed and payment made. The difficult task of moving house was made more bearable by everyone playing the game to the rules.
I’m a bit past assembling flat pack furniture, so engaged the services of a bloke who does it well and likes doing it. His quote for assembly was confirmed or adjusted once he sighted the items before he went about his business, chatting cheerfully. When he was finished, satisfied with his work as was I, payment was gladly made and we parted ways, both enriched, until next time. We have both understood the rules and played the game.
How to play the game in future
The year 2020 has been a particularly disruptive one, not only because of constrictions brought about by COVID-19, but also because of the shake-up in understanding and values as we are challenged to grapple with a new order at so many levels. Even the footy is struggling to gain momentum after being shut down like everyone else.
Don’t be like the Palestinians who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. We can take time during disruption to reset the parameters of the way we play our “games”. Sticking to what is tried and true, respecting history and people and playing fair will ensure peace on our patch as, like the movers, we cheerily do our bit.