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
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
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,
And one of them is when we play games.
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
Even the manner in which players pick their tiles or
lay them down on the Scrabble board affords a peek into their
“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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.