Monday, February 20, 2006

Win-win or Zero-sum

As I journey on my path of reflection triggered by recent events in my life, I'm seeing how some people see connect to others in a value/punishment fashion. The person or relationship is only valuable if something has to be given up in order to obtain it. Much like game theory - there is a zero-sum nature about it.

An example of this from my relationship is with Michael. Not long before Christmas, I went out with a girlfriend. I was having a great time and didn't call in, as I should have, to report that I was going to be home late. On my way home I got an indignant call followed by a cold shoulder for my trespass of not calling or returning at the promised time. In retaliation, he asked me to host dinner for two new friends of his at work. While I enjoy cooking and I was interested in meeting his new friends, the request was made late Monday night for dinner Wednesday, the night before we were planning to leave for our San Francisco for Christmas. There was no compelling reason for having this dinner timed as such, except to punish me for my Monday night sins. The whole experience served only to alienate me.

Revenge is a key element in this mode of thinking - instead of letting it go when one person does more, a score is kept. I had to do X, so I'm going to be sure you do Y.

To continue with the game theory idea, I come from win-win. I just want the best outcome for both of us. If you're happy and it doesn't cost me anything I'm gleeful. My relationship with my friend Adam is like this. There is only finding good, in each other, in each other's lives. While I'm getting a divorce, he is getting married and I couldn't be happier to be in the wedding. Our relationship is balanced with each of us carrying the load on some days - I have called him seeking advice and counsel, with him doing the same on other days. Score is not kept, as we both see the value in the relationship.

Now, how to combine these two world views. Price, or opportunity cost, are closely associated with value. We see two rings in a jewelry store case and we often assume that the one with the higher price is more valuable. As many find that "high-maintenance" significant others are more valuable than the easy going competition.

Fundamentally I have a terrible time understanding how to make people "pay" for my love. If I connect with a person and find them to have similar values and interests, I just cannot be stingy or zero-sum. I want to be part of their lives, share in their experiences, as that in itself is its own reward. The value is in the connection. We both win.

Where I find problems is in those who I like and connect with who have zero-sum minds. It takes so much energy to keep on their scoreboard. To keep looking to push their motivation, to convince them that I'm worth the trade-off. The easiest way to deal with these people is to disconnect and disengage. Sad, as that takes it from win-win to zero-sum to a negative score. Do we all start out win-win and then get burned into becoming zero-sum? I never want to see that happen to me - yet by being who I am, I think I make an easy target.

1 comment:

polemic_eric said...

hey jen... i met you at the loader company. in speaking with them last week, i learned you had left. i was bored tonite and googled you (among others), and found this blog. anyways, i enjoy your writing. it sounds like some shit went down recently. perhaps a mixed blessing. anyways, wanna talk? email back polemic_eric@astria.org