There are some things I miss about being a kid. One of them is the kids often haven’t developed the idea that games ought to be equally fun for everybody who plays.
Kids see themselves as the center of the universe. They see themselves as the most important. Early on, we see this in kids’ struggles at taking turns.
Little kids think that they should always be the one at bat, because being at bat is the most fun. Little kids think that they shouldn’t have to get off the coin-operated shakey boat thing outside the grocery store, because it’s much more fun to have a near-whiplash experience than it is to watch somebody do it.
Have you ever watched slightly older kids engaged in a game of make-believe.
If they are old school parents, and it’s a couple boys, they are running around with a couple toy pistols. If the parents thought that they were hip and modern and that they could impact these things (for better or worse my wife and I fall into this category) they are running around with guns made out of legos, or sticks remotely shaped liked pistols, or perhaps that old stand-by, the extended forefinger with the thumb pointed up in the air.
After a few minutes of running and shooting noises, one might declare “I have a force field.”
Then he’ll step out from behind the shrub or whatever and fire with what he believes is impunity.
The other kid, at this point, we’ll generally proclaim that he too has a force field. He’ll step out from behind his cover, too.
The two kids will then stand there, locked in a stale mate. I think you can probably correlate intelligence and perhaps later life success with how long it takes one of them to figure their way out of this quandary.
“I’ve got a force field cutter!” He’ll say. As he tries to implement this wonder of science, the other child will proclaim, “I’ve got a force-field-cutter-destroyer!” inviting the retort “I’ve got a force-field-cutter-destroyer-destroyer.”
At some point, it stopped being a game of make believe and it became a game where each boy was looking for some advantage not open to the other one. As we grow and mature, we come to recognize “If I’m allowed a force field, then they are allowed a force field.” But it seems to me this recognition takes some years to develop.
I’m a younger brother. My early childhood is marked (marred?) by my older brother’s attempts at formulating games which were fun for him but not so much for me. Most of them end in acts of cruelty that should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention. There was this one Fall evening that a game culminated with me being tied to the trunk of this great big tree and squirted with sugar water to lure the fat New England mosquitos.
I’m not debating whether or not this was a good time for him. Watching a sibling be slowly devoured is a dream for most kids. My point here? It wasn’t so much fun for me. We hadn’t yet really developed this concept that a game is only a game if it’s fun for both sides.
And this brings us to that ancient game “Why.” I’m sure you know it. Kids reach a certain age. And then they begin to ask why. They ask “why” about things they want to know. And they ask “why” about things that they don’t want to know. They ask “Why” when they understand what’s going on. And they ask “Why” when they have absolutely no clue of what is going on. They ask “Why” as a way of being social, and keeping a conversation going. They ask “Why” when they are trying to shift the focus away from other things that are being discussed.
Why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why!
The why game is much more fun for the person asking “why” than it is for the person answering. We all know that there are few things more annoying than being asked “why” more than once in fifteen or so minutes.
But I hope you won’t judge me if I tell you that I personally take a sad little delight in playing the why game. Being on the other side, asking the question, “why.” Once, it’s kind of a funny thing.
But the real pay-off? When somebody answers the question, “why?” Is to ask it again. “Why?”
In addition to annoying those nearest and dearest to us, there is something profound about playing the “why” game as an adult, though.
Playing the why game makes a pretty interesting thing crystal clear:
We really don’t know very much.
Most everything we do, say, or believe, it can’t hold up to much more than about five “why’s” before it breaks down.
I might for example, state that eating healthy is a good idea.
Well, because people want to be healthy.
Well, because it’s more fun to be healthy than it is to be sick.
Because being sick hurts.
Uhmm… maybe because we were made that way? If getting sick were pleasant, there would be no reason to eat healthy?
Because most unhealthy stuff tastes better than most healthy stuff. We need some other reason to eat healthy stuff.
Actually, I have no idea why.
Could somebody have come up with an answer to that final why? Sure. Could somebody have answered any of the previous questions differently? Certainly.
There will come a point that they will run out of answers. And each answer, it’s a little more theoretical than the one that came before.
Science is no help in this area. Even the most thoroughly understand phenemona can only withstand a few rounds of “why.” There have been times when people predicted that this science or that science will soon run out of things to discover. There have been people who looked to the future and thought that soon all the dilemmas within their domain would be solved.
But they have always been wrong.
The things that we don’t know… The times when we can no longer really answer the question, “why?” that’s when we’ve traveled into a place of mystery.
All the things that we think we know… they are mystery. And all the things that we do know, they are islands floating on this ocean of mystery. Mystery is a fundamental element of the universe, larger and more profound than all the things we will ever know.