Lili is “on vacation” this week, chillaxing at the Ashram while we visit our “other” daughters in Chicago and SoCal. She’ll be back next week. Meanwhile, meet Napster and Zanzibar, both rescue cats–as different as night & day, in nature and life experience. Napster came to us as a kitten 9 years ago, joining two old biddie female cats, and immediately assumed the omega position in the “pack.” [He’s a ‘fraidy cat.] Six years later, after the passing of one of the old cats, young Zanzibar came out of the West, fresh from a gig in Chino, California–charismatic, affable, and totally alpha.
Our topic today is zero-sum-gaming: the perception that all endeavors in life–not just hockey and beauty pageants–yield one winner [and a bunch of losers]. The amygdala is a big player here, ever on the alert for the Big Four threats to our sense of well-being. Let’s visit the luxurious Fitness Center at the Drake Hotel at dawn, shall we? Spoiled by two decades of in-home exercise equipment, where the dress code is casual [no threat of humiliation] and long-established family schedules assure no waiting [intrusion] for one’s machine of choice, when staying at a hotel I always try to beat the crowd by being the early bird. So, at 0-dark-hundred I am alone, halfway through my usual routine, grooving to an eclectic [some would say eccentric] set of songs on my iPod, eyes shut, when I sense the body heat of another, on the nearest elliptical [there being no less than 7 others he could have chosen]. I have no fear, except for his welfare, given the audible signs of his pain & suffering. [Will I have to administer CPR?] I try to imagine his motives in choosing that particular machine. [“Of all the ginjoints in all the world…”] Need for affiliation? For affection? For affirmation? As I finish, so does he, whistling his way into the elevator, then remarking, “That’s not even half of what I usually do. I had a late night. I’ll come back this afternoon and do a real workout.” Of course! It is a zero-sum game! Although I am probably 20 years his senior–and female–I am the only game in town; and he is playing to win. So, trying for the unilateral disarmament [“Why can’t we all just get along?”] option, I reply, “Hey! At least you showed up and showed willing. We are both to be commended for our efforts, at this early hour, don’t you think?” [No, he does not.] “I’ll do better this afternoon,” says he. [Subtext: I’m guessing he does not mean “better than I did this morning,” he means “better than you.”]
This time, I was amused; but how many times a day do I–do you–engage in equally petty zero-sum-gamesmanship? Everything can become a contest: “I am a nicer person than you.” “Oh, yeah? Well, I am more aware of my inner wolf than you.” What contests of “wonderfulness” do you enter, on a regular basis? [We can’t all be Miss Congeniality.] I’m not saying, don’t enter. Just notice that you’re in, and ask yourself, “What do I win, if I win?”
Zanzibar has been a tonic for Napster. They happily play-fight all the time, and sometimes double-team old Ruth, who is pushing 20, and not amused. However, they must be fed in separate rooms, or Zanzibar would leave the other two starving. He is also Lili’s best friend, licking her ears when she is asleep and allowing himself to be herded when she is awake. They seem to have devised a fragile non-aggression pact. If a cat and a dog can do it, folks, can’t we?