My stubbornness or competitiveness wasn’t really a big surprise — but I had no idea just how far it could go.
During my last trip to Duke Divinity School’s Foundations of Christian Leadership program this week, my colleagues and I played a facinating game (a.k.a. psychological experiment) called “Win All that You Can.” We divided into four teams and were asked to choose either an ‘x’ or a ‘y’ in each of ten rounds. After the teams chose their letter, the different combinations of x’s and y’s that were chosen by the group yielded your team money or lost you money. We quickly realized that choosing ‘x’ was the safest choice because the worst you could lose was only a dollar. In the first few rounds my team stuck with this strategy and happily found ourselves with a solid lead.
Then, in the fifth round, the stakes got higher. Your winnings or losses would be tripled. But, this time, representatives of the four teams were able to discuss possible strategies with one another. Two of the other teams made an impassioned plea for us to change our choice to ‘y.’ They had deciphered that during each round all of our scores always added up to ‘zero.’ They contended that to make this more than a zero-sum game, we’d ALL have to choose ‘y.’
I went back to my team with this proposal. Without too much thought or debate we decided to stay the course, thinking we could change our minds closer to the end of the game, letting the other teams have some winnings then, if we so chose. During the ensuing five rounds, we heard more impassioned pleas during our allotted negotiations. Our team didn’t budge. We won big.
During the game, I served as the negotiator for our team. I was stunned by how easy it was for me to ignore the needs of the other teams, dig in my heels and keep all the winnings for ourselves. I like to think of myself as a pretty generous person, as do my colleagues on my team. Yet, none of us were swayed from our individualistic mindset in order to do something for the good of the whole.
Bear in mind, that there really were no real stakes in this game. No one was really winning or losing any money. Nevertheless, when I was on top, fat and happy with good winnings, I really had no interest in making a change that would be a detriment to my bottom line.
How often do we do this in real life? How often do we dig in our heels and refuse to make change so that we have much while others go with very little? The answer: all the time.
I don’t like to think of myself this way. I’d like to think that I am willing to sacrifice my personal wealth or convenience or comfortable ways for the good of the whole. But, that’s not always the case.
In this season of harvest and abundance, I encourage you to think about that incredibly counter-cultural call of the Gospel to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This means giving something up, whether it is the comfortable way I’m used to worshipping in my local church or giving away a little more money so that my church can better do ministry in the community.
Pull your heels out of the dirt, give something up and move away from your ‘easy’ place.