Sunday, November 1, 2009

Why you should never play by the rules

            I have a friend Alex; we met freshman year of college as hallmates.  My roommate and I became good friends with each other and Alex, and so, quite naturally, Alex all but lived in our dorm room.  Alex had a funny way of showing his affection: his philosophy on friendship went something like “When you first meet someone, you act nice and see what they’re like.  Once you get to know them, you abuse them until they go away or become a good friend”.  Yes, both Adam and I were abused.

            Alex abused us each differently.  Adam, who was relatively passive and unflappable, received sporadic attacks from Alex, amounting to physical abuse (all in good fun, of course :-).  This wouldn’t have worked on me: I would have responded.  So, Alex abused me differently: he broke my mind.

            I love to debate nearly everything.  Alex found this out quickly.  At that time, however, I thought differently: you could say that my thoughts were tiny cubes, which lived in square-pegged holes.  He would engage me in debate, fill my head with nice, cubic thoughts, then proceeded to forcibly hammer cylindrical thoughts into my nice square thought holes.  In response, my mind contorted into impossible shapes, and you would be able to hear the circuits in my head fusing as smoke poured out my ears.

            Gradually, as my brain was jerked this way and that, my mind became more flexible.  I started to understand the profound lack of sense that Alex threw at me in daily quantity.  I realized that I had been thinking two-dimensionally, and Alex was engaging me through the third dimension.  I finally understood the game that he played.  And by this point, my thoughts were no longer cubical: they now flowed more like water, ready to reshape themselves around each new problem that might come along.

            If thinking had been a game, I used to play by the rules.  In a mental game of monopoly, I moved my little car from space to space based upon the role of the dice, following the directions on all the little cards, and buying and selling properties according to their printed value.  Alex came along, and moved his piece how many ever spaces he wanted.  He took money from the bank when he needed money.  If he wanted a chance card, he put his piece on the stack of chance cards, laughing his spectacular high-pitched laugh.  And any time I told him “You can’t do that!”, he would just laugh and do it again.

            So, I learned to not play by the rules.  I learned to steal his money.  I learned to hide my piece so he couldn’t continually put it in jail.  I learned to rearrange the chance cards so I didn’t have to pay for street repairs in front of my property.  Gradually, I learned that yes, it really was this simple: you often can do what you think you can’t.  I mean, what was stopping me?  Well, Alex, when he metaphorically sat on the theoretical bank, but what stopped me before?

            Today, I don’t play by the rules.  I don’t cheat, lie, steal, or kill, but I don’t do those because they’re pretty bad ideas: not because they’re “not allowed”.  And, like Alex before me, I’ve come to like nothing more than hammering cylindrical pegs into the square-shaped holes in other people’s minds.  It’s just so easy; I just take the Monopoly money I need out of the bank, and when my victim for the day tells me, “You can’t do that!”, I laugh and say “Why not?” right back.

            So, dear reader, I issue you a challenge: think of something you can’t do.  Now go do it.  I just divided by zero.  Can you beat that?

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