A Greater Game Is Afoot

Photo by Varun Yadav

A greater game is afoot.

Is there something beneath the surface that goes unseen yet underlies, even drives, everything that is seen above the surface? Does face value represent true value or is it a facade disguising something greater beneath? Does the image that our eyes perceive represent truth or is it merely an image masquerading as the truth. This is not to say that the superficial question, our surface impression is wrong or bad, simply that there is a greater reality, a greater game that is not readily apparent. 

Often families of patients who are critically ill will be, very reasonably, highly concerned about the condition of their loved one. Occasionally families or friends will fixate on specific values in the blood work or numbers in the chart. Fluctuations in electrolytes or blood markers become the focus of long conversations and debates. The superficial concern about potassium, sodium, creatinine, or blood cells overlies the far deeper concern regarding the overall state of the patient and their recovery. It is easy to answer the superficial question with a long discussion of electrolytes, buffers, cellular shifts, and repletion scales, yet this merely reinforces the focus on the superficial question without addressing the underlying concern. Addressing the overall condition and goals of the patient is far more reassuring and productive than a biochemistry lesson. Recognizing the greater game is essential to patient care. 

Game recognition is played out, either effectively or ineffectively, in relationships every day. Nearly all of the things that are points of contention and argument are not the points of conflict in and of themselves, but rather represent a greater underlying concerns. Being prompt is rarely about the technical aspects of showing up on time but rather communicating to the other party that their time is valued. Choosing the type of food is not about the food but rather valuing the desires of the other person. The five love languages, described by Gary Chapman, are simply distal manifestations communicating proximal commitment and love. Gifts are not about the object being transferred but are entirely about communicating that one party was thinking about and contemplating the likes and dislikes of the person whom they love. Quality time is not about the number of minutes and seconds but is entirely about intentionally selecting the other person over other activities and relationships. Words of affirmation are not about paying compliments but are entirely about valuing and recognizing the characteristics of the other individual. Physical touch is not about contact between epidermal surfaces but is about choosing to attend to the comfort and happiness of the other. Acts of service are not about the task being completed but about careful contemplation of the needs of the other person and the prioritization of those needs above personal needs. Without recognition of the greater game, love languages are simply dry exchanges, compulsory tasks without the robust and vibrant interplay between two individuals that is the point and goal, the greater game. Recognizing the greater game is essential to relationships. 

Game recognition is essential to allowing creativity and out of the box thinking. When a boss instructs you to shovel dirt from one pile to another to fill in a hole (something I have done at a couple points, usually when it was hot and dry, usually without a clear point), the point is not that the shovel must be used or that the dirt from above ground must be removed. Instead the point is that a hole must be filled in before the task can be considered complete. Recognition of this fact opens up many options for solving the problem instead of limiting possibilities to a single entity. This same concept plays out in radically more complex scenarios from running codes in the hospital to doing procedures to testing hypotheses and publishing papers. Without recognition of the greater game, taking initiative and complex problems solving is impossible. Recognizing the greater game is essential to productivity and creative thinking. 

Perhaps the most difficult thing about recognizing the greater game that is afoot is maintaining vigilance that there is always a greater game afoot. The default is superficial recognition because it is easier, requires less energy, and society is accepting of this status quo. This is one of the powerful benefits to practices like meditation and mindfulness. These practices force us to step outside of the immediate task and refocus on the greater picture. In a world with so much information available to anyone, anywhere, synthesis of relevant information into whole pictures, true games, is inestimably valuable.

The greatest game is to recognize that there is always a greater game afoot. 

Published by JR Stanley

I am an MD, PhD student, training to be a physician scientist, with a deep interest in science, faith, and living life as an adventure. Join me as I entertain ideas from new findings in science, evolving interpretations of faith, and experience life one day and one adventure at a time.

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