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In My Own Write: Games people play
By JUDY MONTAGU
12/04/2012
What separates the winners from the losers? It comes down to navigation.
 
I remember my father relating a piece of advice given him by his father: “If you want a clue to the character of the girl you’re courting, call on her, unannounced, early in the morning, before she’s had time to put on her makeup.”

In other words: See what she’s like without warning, without artifice, without pretense, when she’s put on the spot, and you’ll learn a lot.

This may be sound dating counsel – even a few generations on – though I’m not sure how women might apply it to the guys they’re seeing since most men still don’t go in for makeup.

Luckily for both sexes, though, there are other ways to suss out someone’s true nature. We may smile and act pleasantly and do our best to ingratiate ourselves with those around us, but there are situations in which our most basic traits – good and bad – will out, despite ourselves.

And one of them is when we play games.

I’VE LEARNED from my years as a member of the Sam Orbaum Jerusalem Scrabble Club that facing someone over a game-board can tell you a lot about that person, well beyond the extent of his or her vocabulary and playing tactics. It can tell you, for starters, whether he or she is open and expansive, or tending to be uptight and self-absorbed.

Even the manner in which players pick their tiles or lay them down on the Scrabble board affords a peek into their psyches.

“Angry people, whiners, spoiled brats, followers, leaders, cunning as opposed to creative – you name it, and their traits come out in a good game,” wrote one blogger about games in general.

“You wouldn’t believe the screaming that can go on between partners during a game of bridge,” a friend commented.

“Once, we were playing Scrabble in an adjoining room and couldn’t concentrate on what we were doing.”

I should state, for the record, that you won’t find a nicer bunch of people than those who attend the Jerusalem Scrabble club; most of them, despite the inevitable competitiveness, are good sports addicted, above all, to the enjoyment of the game.

That said, I still haven’t forgotten the moment during a Scrabble tournament at the Dead Sea when I was new to the club and in awe of the proceedings. I took a seat at the appointed hour opposite an inoffensive- looking older lady, who suddenly fixed me with a pair of gimlet eyes and intoned: “Now we play for blood!” Totally unnerved, I barely survived the game.

IMAGINE, WROTE that innovative blogger, how companies could benefit if a psychologist played a game of Scrabble with prospective employees.

I must admit that the idea – and mental picture it conjured up – tickled me.

Scrabble board in place of questionnaire could be revealing as well as injecting some fun into boring job interviews.

Taking the notion deeper into human interaction, the blogger suggested that “playing games on a regular basis should be a requirement before any relationship goes to the next level.”

Now there’s a thoughtful recommendation for dating couples, whereby character flaws emerging during the course of play could cause a relationship to go by the board, so to speak.

IF ONLY games between people could be limited to the kind played on a board or court, where the rules are out in the open and known to all parties. Unfortunately, that is often not the case, as Eric Berne made clear in his classic Games People Play, which has proved its enduring relevance by the over five million copies sold since it first appeared in the 1960s.

In the book, Berne gives names such as “Look How Hard I’ve Tried,” “See What You Made Me Do,” “I’m Only Trying To Help You” and “If It Weren’t For You” to manipulative psychological games played between people on a subconscious level.

Operating out of insecurity and old, rooted childhood fears of hurt and terror of rejection, these mind-gamers “play it safe” by trying to control their relationship environment through controlling the other person. It’s an ultimately futile goal pursued at the expense of openness, spontaneity, mutual legitimacy and trust; and, consequently, any lasting and meaningful bond.

The quicker anyone involved in this kind of coercive association realizes its barrenness, the better. They can break the mold by declaring they have no interest in mind games – or, in some cases, by simply walking away. As they say, it takes two to tango.

An intriguing biographical note: For all his understanding and psychological insight, Eric Berne was wed and divorced three times up to his death in 1970 – proving that even for the “experts,” happiness in marriage can be a complex and elusive thing.

AND YET, there is a kind of game-playing that can enhance a romantic relationship in all its stages: a little mild flirting to pique and engage the senses; a touch of humor to shade the sometimes glaring light of unvarnished honesty; a bit of role-playing that is enjoyed by both partners. Variety is indeed the spice of life, and games can be a positive element in a relationship, provided each player is on board and neither is being taken advantage of.

STEPPING BACK to take a broader view, it strikes me that living one’s life well has something essential in common with excelling at a game or sport.

Have you ever watched professional windsurfers and marveled at the sure but delicate way in which they negotiate the waves? According to former British windsurfing champion Peter Hart, the most desirable physical attributes for success in the sport are not what you would imagine – not those of a body builder “with supreme physical fitness and the arms of Popeye,” but those of a dancer – suppleness, agility and light, fast feet.

Good windsurfers “are constantly and subtly shifting position so they provide a perfect counterbalance to the rig; constantly adjusting the angle of the sail so it provides power when they need it and plays dead when they don’t.”

In other words, they “smell the wind” and sense the flow of the water and go with it, staying cool, keeping their balance, moving with elegance and grace.

As we surf through life with its inevitable ups and downs, we need to try and sense which way the wind is blowing at any given moment – in our careers, in our relationships with our partners, children and friends, in everything that touches us.

Thus sensitized to the flow, we may learn to subtly alter course when that is what’s needed, moving lightly but with determination, seeing setbacks for what they are – just setbacks – and not as obstacles that cannot be got around, or over; leaving us primed to meet the next challenge.

This sounds like a tall order, especially in our fast-moving, often confusing modern world – and it is. Yet it has long seemed to me that those people whose existence seems most successful manage to navigate gracefully through the sea of their lives as if they are riding its waves, staying afloat and not allowing themselves to get dragged under.

You could call it excelling at the game of life – and it isn’t necessarily the smartest, richest or most talented of us who can do it. As Peter Hart points out, the delicate moves of a dancer can get you farther than the muscles of Popeye.
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