As I sat with a book this morning over my beloved coffee, my boys began to arrange a game for themselves. It was to be a nerf gun war. This meant I had plenty of time to read.
Nerf gun wars typically take an hour just for the boys to figure out the logistical aspects and to outfit themselves. In addition, there are usually no less than five arguments that break out before the game even gets started. For this reason, I tend to advocate that even the game preparations take place in the back yard. Today, however, I had the pleasure of overhearing part of the arrangements and a few pieces really struck me.
At one point, Ashton (9) encouraged Quentin (5) to pretend to be on Owen’s side of the battle, so he could turn on poor, unsuspecting Owen (7) at the most advantageous moment. Knowing how emotional and vulnerable Owen is, I considered halting this plan; having three children does not make any battle where there are two opposing sides a fair situation. But it was rather clever of them, and truth be told, I wanted to see if Quentin would be able to pull it off. Part of me wondered if he could lie that well. Another part knew that Quentin at the age of 5 is far more manipulative than 9-year-old Ashton and I wondered whether he would honor this request or would actually fool Ashton instead.
Irony always makes me smile – must be that dark sense of humor I have – and I took note that I was reading The Clash of Civilizations, which was really quite fitting for the little social experiment I was conducting in my living room. As I waited for Quentin and Owen to return from outfitting themselves in the garage, I made no comments to Ashton, who seemed to anticipate the results with the same lingering questions in his mind.
Once they returned, Quentin announced that he was playing on Owen’s side and was ready to go. Ashton looked at him pointedly, “Remember what we agreed?” Quentin ignored him and Ashton had to repeat the question two more times before Quentin looked up and said, “I agreed with you, but he has more bullets and the gun that shoots the farthest.” Clearly, Quentin had done the math and odds just weren’t in his favor even when he had double the forces and betrayal planned.
Of course Ashton was furious, but at this point I had to laugh. “You tried your hardest, and really, it was quite clever. But it didn’t work and now you have to find a way to move on and try a different approach. Ashton, there was a lesson here, likely more than one, and I want you to remember it.”
People, like countries, will betray you or others, they will change sides for reasons you didn’t see coming, they will align for the weapons and the resources they see as valuable, and they will make and receive those choices very personally. You still have to play the game and make your decisions to the best of your ability with limited information.
I returned to my book, chuckling, and sent them outdoors. All from a little game in the morning, yet they understand far more about strategy than so many out there and it is an education that is so critical, yet often lacking. These boys are testing and learning these skills all on their own, and all through a “simple” game that they invented on their own. It is amazing that human nature in competition can be applied in so innate a way.