Friday, February 8, 2013

Our Wii Lives ...

... Or, what I learned about loss and love from Super Mario Brothers

“I hate losing. I hate losing more than I ever want to win.”
Billy Beane, Moneyball

We became a Wii-U family this past Christmas. For the uninitiated, the Wii-U is the long awaited upgrade to Nintendo’s Wii home video gaming system.  Our first generation Wii conveniently died about 6 weeks before Christmas; almost on the day Nintendo launched its Wii-U. So it was with much anticipation and joy that Santa delivered a Wii-U.

And we enjoyed the Wii-U. For a while, that is.

Image courtesy Nintendo
Now, for the next part of this story, I have to explain a little about Super Mario Bros. First, the older brother chooses a character: Mario. Then the younger brother selects the other character: Luigi. Then they set out in a magical fantasyland collecting coins, avoiding various hazards and bad critters, to eventually get to a castle to defeat Bowser and rescue Princess Peach.  Controlled by the two siblings, Mario and Luigi travel through video space. As they travel forward, the view on the screen follows the characters as if a movie camera is following the two characters running along. This makes sense. But, this means if one, like the older brother, is faster and more skilled than younger brother and the distance between the two gets too much, the slower character falls out of “camera” view, disappears for a moment, then reappears in what looks like a giant soap bubble. He remains suspended in the soap bubble until the other person, in the lead, touches them. The bubble pops, and on they go.

And like any activity with older brothers and younger brothers, there is a lot of playing catch-up. I don’t need to be watching to know when this happens. I know this happens when I hear:

“Wait up. Stop! Can’t you just Stop?!? I told you to Stop! You’re not letting me play!!!”

What is the saying? ‘Life imitates Super Mario Bros?’

Over the course of the Winter break the frustration rose until it boiled over. And I did what any highly evolved father would do. I yelled at them and banned them from the Wii-U for a full week.

One Week! Did you hear me?!? And for every day you act up, I add another day! Got it?

I unplugged the unit, put the controllers in a bag and hid it all in a closet. That’ll show ‘em.  And it did, in fact. They cried and complained, for a bit, about it being unfair and so forth. And they grieved the loss. But what was done was done. The end. But I was kicking myself. For two reasons: First, for instituting a week long punishment that I would have to enforce. And second for buying the goddamned video game console in the first place. Had we not had it, no fight, no punishment, no grieving that loss.

But a curious thing happened. They stopped fighting. For the whole week. I even overheard the older telling the younger to calm down or “Dad will take away the Wii-U for longer.”


A shared this story with a career and organizational development consultant I've worked with and she shared this article which describes recent research showing that our distaste and aversion to loss is greater than our desire for equivalent gains. Interesting. And it makes sense.

There are two ways I look at this.

The Buddha taught us that, in part, to end our suffering we must end our greed. It is our desire for those things that we want, or our need to cling to those things we already have, our possessions, that create suffering. And can imagine the Buddha smiling knowingly when I removed the Wii-U. That's one way I look at this.

The other way is subtler. I think of my own loss. I can see back to earlier relationships how the fear of losing the relationship actually held me back. There was the friendship I was afraid I’d somehow loose if I asked her out and she said ‘no.’  Then there was the fear of having truly open conversations, to share differences and disappointments with an early mate for fear of scaring her away and loosing her. But instead I sacrificed a deeper intimacy that we never created. Not until a few years later when I met Amy did I have a better understanding of how important it was to risk losing something to get something. It didn't happen overnight, but it happened, and we came to know in our own way that to fully love also meant to risk fully loosing. I just didn’t really think I’d loose her when I did.

Now I’m with someone else. Having already lost one love of my life I see even more clearly the paradox of risking loss to create love. Sure, I still have fears and insecurities and worries. But it’s different now.

Maybe I’m over analyzing all this. The boys got out of hand and they lost a privilege. End of story. Yet the paradox remains: What are those things I have which I fear losing? Where do I cling to something that creates some level of my suffering? And what is it I fear letting go of which prevents me from gaining something even greater?

Whether in our personal relationships, when we hold back for some fear, or with friends, or in the workplace, or even our national leaders? Where are those places where we are more concerned about not losing, like Billy Beane, at the cost of something greater?

Mario and Luigi still have much to teach us.

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