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What an 8-year-old Taught Me About Life

Meredith Mediates by Meredith Richardson

Last weekend, I was cajoled into playing the game of Life with two nephews.

I don’t like playing board games. I want to be someone who likes them, but I don’t like them.

So, it took a lot of effort on their part to get me to play. There were multiple asks and refusals before the answer turned to yes. Was I rewarding bad behavior? Probably. I only see them once every couple of years, and I’m the aunt, not the parent, so cajoling is more effective from them than from others.

As we played, the competitive energy around the game rose in all of us. I was the first offender.

When my sister said something I didn’t like, I told my sister that if there weren’t two little boys there, I had a rude gesture that I would use on her.

The boys promptly informed us that they knew the rude gesture of which I spoke. The 12-year-old appeared to know it. The 8-year-old may have just said he did so as not to be left out.

As the game progressed, the boys began to get physical with each other. Not really physical. Just a little physical. Just enough to release some of that pent up, competitive energy.

When told to stop, the 8-year old said, "Playing games brings out the worst in us."

I started to laugh.

He said, "It does it to all of us. You, too." And then he mimicked me, "If there weren’t two little boys here, I have a rude gesture I would make." And again he said it, with head swivels for embellishment, a big grin on his face.

I laughed and laughed and laughed.

His statement, "Playing games brings out the worst in us," was an aha moment for me.

Playing board games like Life does bring out the worst in me. I don’t like sitting in competition with some, but limited, control over the outcome. It brings up an ugly side of myself that I don’t like to see. And it brings up yucky feelings that I have no way to release.

"Playing games brings out the worst in us," normalized these feelings for me. I am not the only one who feels a little yucky during the game as the competitive spirit takes over, while, at the same time, there is no clear path to controlling the situation so as to create the best possible outcome for myself. The need to win can bring out the worst in each of us.

And yet, in our society, we play games like this. I had to reach out to my friend, Amy McGarry, Esq., to gain some perspective on why we do this to ourselves.

When we do so, we learn about ourselves and those around us simply by watching how we and others react to a bad spin of the wheel or a good card. In our good moments, we teach each other how to play fairly, how to win with grace and how to lose with dignity. In our bad moments, we teach each other how to cheat, how to trash talk, and how to lose badly. We create artificial conflict and learn how to move safely through it and be close again on the other side. In all of it, we find that good and bad feelings are mixed together, that a good laugh will dissolve most tension, and that we can get through even the bad times with some good times mixed in.

I think that my nephew and Amy may have found a way to get me to like board games.


Meredith Richardson

Meredith Richardson, Esq., CPC, helps people and organizations to successfully navigate conflict through mediation, conflict coaching, and training.  Though she was trained and worked as an attorney in ME, NH, and MA, she no longer self-identifies as a lawyer.  She helps people to have difficult conversations successfully. Meredith is well-respected… MORE >

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