Wednesday Wisdom: What Do You Control?

Play the cards,
They’re all you have.
Curse the deck if you want.
Throw the cards if you want.
Look at my hand if you want.
Cry and call the shuffler a cheater.

But play the cards.
They are all you have.
— Benjamin Raji, Play The Cards

I have a few pet peeves in life. Some of them include hearing coins scratch, or hearing food chewed loudly, but those are somewhat harmless. There is one pet peeve that is a little more dangerous though, and it’s the phrase “ I don't have a choice.”

We all live with some baggage. The baggage of the marginalized may be heavier and more evident in a lot of ways, but we all have disadvantages and advantages. We don't control these forces. As a black man, I don’t control how cops will react to me if I get pulled over. Women don’t control how our society is built for them to serve the whims of white men. White men don't control the means they are born into (note: being born into wealth ain't all it's cracked up to be). 

But I do control how I present myself when an officer walks up to me. Of course, you can do everything right, and still end up dead in those situations. If you’re confused, google Philando Castle. But I can control what I do in the presence of law enforcement, and do the best I can to come out of that mug alive. My sisters control how they react to misogyny in the workplace, or whether they require their husbands to be equally responsible of household chores, childcare, etc. 

Do those situations cause friction? Probably. But we choose how honest we want to be with ourselves and others. We choose whether, for example, maintaining daily “peace” is more important than resolving the injustices in our lives. We all control what values, what macro, top-down belief system we choose to adopt and live by. 

My intuition tells me that when you live black and white at the macro (i.e., you know yourself, your values, and are unwavering in your convictions), the often gray micros of life won’t suffocate you. In fact, the gray will be where you shine.

On the other hand, if you allow your micro to be black and white (which is often the comfortable thing to do), you’ll probably find that your macro is gray, muddy, full of compromises and holes. You’ll probably find yourself getting dragged by superficial measures of happiness and success. You’ll probably find that the things you say you want don’t match up with your actions very often.

If life is a game, our macros--our principles--make up our strategy and our micros--our daily decisions and actions--are the tactics we use to make that strategy a reality. Your form and tactics can be black and white and crystal clear, but it’ll be a reflection of your strategy, and if that’s poor, you won’t have much luck in this game.

For example, your tactic might be to never go out of your way to approach people, to always wait till you feel welcomed and loved before you put yourself out there. But what does that say about your strategy, about the type of person you’re trying to be? Would your strategy still work if everyone on this planet adopted it?

Life is a game, and contrary to some beliefs, we don’t make the rules. Everyone is dealt their own cards. You can gripe about the cards you were dealt, you can play like everyone else plays to feel like you’re winning in the short term, but your life isn’t a short term game. 

We’re here for the long run, regardless of how you or I feel about that--although, I imagine that if we lived with more wisdom, we’d find that this life is actually pretty dope, even amidst the pain and suffering. But we’re here. The deck, the dealer, your hand--we are all here to stay. So the question is: how are you going to play those cards?

Keep moving.