Tug of War (and Peace)

Imagine the following situation:

  • You are in a game of tug of war
  • Your opponent is of exactly equal strength, and because of that
  • You will win 50% of the time

What can you do to win 100% of the time?

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Like in any game, there are two main reasons that you may drive yourself to compete:

First, you may want to test your ability and do as many things right to be the best and thus, as a byproduct, win. Investors think this way when competing against the stock market as a whole: the S&P 500 is a quantity that they can compete against, but there is no person running the S&P 500 over which they can gain power, it is just a measure of their skill.

On the other hand, and more dangerously, you may want to beat somebody else for no other reason than to have "bragging rights" and experience the dopamine rush of victory. Whether or not you are actually skilled matters not, only whether you can beat somebody else and establish your superiority. This is pure ego, and only motivates you to compete until you are better than everyone else, but not the best that you can be.

The latter, an egotistical tug-of-war is the game that we play when we get into arguments and conflicts with our family, friends, and coworkers. Once an argument has begun, there can be no tie: there must be a winner and loser, and I'll be damned if I'm not the clear victor. Why? Because I can't stand to lose! That's not a good reason to be disputatious: that's a problem.

Far too often we fall into disputes and conflicts without ever asking ourselves if the entire ordeal is even worth it. Best case scenario, by the end of your next petty argument you will be the winner, but of what? Congratulations! Has your life changed fundamentally? Have you become a better person? Most importantly, do you now live a more peaceful life? No, you gave in to the temptation of ego to draw you into conflict that only served to disrupt what might have been serene.

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So, in a game of tug of war, how do you win 100% of the time? Control your impulses that tell you to win at all costs, and release yourself from the burden of needless conflict.

Let go of the rope.