I learned a version of the game in life when growing up. It’s called chasing The American Dream. In this game, there are winners, those rewarded with more purchasing power and privilege, and losers, those who aren’t.
I was taught that to win you have to work hard to get a good education. When finished with school, you have to land a good job. Then you have to find a good mate and buy a nice family home. Marriage comes next and having some chubby babies. Access to money helps with all of this. But, unlike Monopoly, all players don’t get an equal amount to start.
Raising the little ones to be productive citizens, teaching them the rules of play, is a large focus of the game. And if you play well, you’ll have the resources to send the cuties off to college. And if you molded them to fit the parameters of the game, they will have the desire to go and grades and SAT scores to get in.
Then you save for retirement, hoping you can sustain the resources, health, and life force required to enjoy your sunset years in privileged comfort. And then you die. The last bit actually happens regardless of what game you choose to play.
This is a pretty basic description of a player’s arc in The American Dream. There are lots of us playing. And we’re all working hard to land in life’s winner’s circle.
We follow that arc because we are told that this is the game that will bring us to a happy life if we play it well. Here’s an interesting fact: suicide rates among successful, middle-aged, middle-class men are at an all-time high and trending upward. For the most part, these are men who have played the game and are thought of as winners. What is going on here?
Why are depression and anxiety rates through the roof in our modern world? Is there an inherent flaw in the game? The game has remained basically unchanged since the end of World War II. But we have changed, and our society has changed, in huge ways. Maybe that’s the problem—we’re changing, our planet is changing, yet the game remains the same.
The story of the American Dream being the road to happiness is fast dissolving in this technological age, like cheap white bread left in the rain. It’s become extremely difficult for our children to abide by the game’s rules. Young professionals can’t even think about following the above formula. The debt they accumulate just to get into the game ensures they will be hobbled for years before they can hope to engage in any meaningful play.
Then there’s the whole destruction of the ecosystem that is unfolding in our children’s lifetime. That puts a dystopian wet rag on any spark of enthusiasm for a game based on future winnings and unrestricted consumption of resources.
Look at our top tier of economic and political A-Listers. How many act like mental and emotional cripples? They’ve tied themselves up in Gordian knots of power-hungry rage, paranoia, and profound mental contraction and immobility. And yet, we call them winners all!
Seems the more skill we have at playing The American Dream, as taught to us by the authority figures who raised us, the greater the chances that we’ll wind up being miserable people. Though, golden toilets sure are swell.
Maybe it’s time for a new game, a new way of doing and being in the world.
One of our precious freedoms in the West is being able to create our own games and play by rules we choose. We just need a little audacity, creativity, and the willingness to change.
The American Dream game is very clear on why to play it: you play to win. You play to get the best stuff and enjoy a life of comfort, security, and pleasure with a bit of excitement thrown in. How might a new game compare?
I think a new game could include having some cool stuff (doesn’t have to be the best), enjoying a life of comfort, security, and pleasure with a bit of excitement as well. But what if we got rid of the winner and loser brackets? What if it were just about playing for the fun of the game?
We could create a game where the good of the entire human tribe is at its center—a joyous hub that recognizes we are all in this craziness together. Human connection would top the list of rules before comfort and the rest. And, as it turns out, we are happiest when we are connecting with other humans, so why not make that paramount?
Why not create a game of life where connection is the inspiration and leading principle?! Some teachers, a lot wiser than those authority figures, taught that we are actually designed to connect with each other, that our hearts are deep and built for unity. Some of those teachings, often written in red print, use the world Love instead of connection. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
I’m not sure why, but cultivating connection is not valued in The American Dream game, despite how much it’s talked about at prayer breakfasts and political rallies.
Maybe instead of playing to win, we play to discover just how deep our hearts really go—we play to see if we can plumb the depths of our being.
We can start this new game by simply loving more, opening more, helping more, sharing more, connecting more. We induce more smiles and try to find some humor, no matter how hard. The importance of shared, heartful laughter can’t be overemphasized. It’s the best way of sharing breath!
Sure, we can make a buck, but can we actually enjoy making it and helping each other make it as well! We wouldn’t play to win, we’d play for the joy of playing together! We could create this if we wanted to. What is stopping us?
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