I am grateful to James Carse who provided me with the language and imagery of finite and infinite games.*
The prime game in life is the infinite one, identified by its including of as many as possible for as long as possible, and when the rules threaten either of these open goals, they’re changed.
The finite game is secondary, marked by excluding the many, being time-sensitive, and always played by the rules.
Though our lives include both kinds of game we lean more towards one than the other.
The infinite player knows it’s important to stay connected with the larger game which is about one’s sense of being, that everyone is unique and important, it’s important to imagine and dream just for the sake of it, about life becoming what we create in our narratives, and, how there are many ways to express these.
The finite player makes things happen, consolidates, stabilises, makes sure we can repeat important things tomorrow, makes sure people are fed and housed and healed.
The infinite player must know the value of the finite game – how dreams must produce action and therefore produce finite games.
The finite player must understand that there’s something more important than simply getting the job done (see Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), therefore ought to stimulate the expansion of the infinite game.
The future asks that we recognise both and do not find ourselves trapped in an extreme infinite or finite bubble.
Seth Godin offers these thoughts which help us see how to balance the infinite and finite games in this way will require courage, generosity, and wisdom:
‘[Y]ou have to create work that might not work. That you have to lean out of the boat and invest in making something that’s remarkable. That you have to be generous when you feel like being selfish.’**
The context for Godin’s word is encouragement not to wait to be discovered. Hugh Macleod underlines the fact there’s never been a better time in history than now, so:
‘If you want to show up, this is the time.’^
Reading on, Philip Newell helps me to connect compassion with the games we play through the life and words of Burmese democratist Aung San Suu Kyi who describes the compassionate way as including:
“The courage to see. The courage to feel. And the courage to act.”^^
We know the most extreme finite games not only ignore the suffering of others but can also create it. Here the courage of seeing opens our eyes and thinking to what’s really happening, moving us from the ego to the eco and begins with slowing down our seeing:
‘We find our true centre not within the limited confines of our own individuality, family, our nationhood but within the connections between us.’*^
This ability to play the infinite game lies within each of us. We only need draw out our way of participating and contributing. Here, slow seeing helps:
‘In the neglected craves and corners of your evaded solitude, you will find the treasure you have always sought elsewhere.’^*
With what you discover there, it is your turn in the infinite game.
(*See James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog On being discovered.)
(^From gaping void’s blog Opportunity cost.)
(^^Aung San Suu Kyi, quoted in Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(*^From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(^*From John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara.)