One evening last month, as Cherie and I flipped through channels broadcasting mind-numbing television shows, we ran across the premier of a new game show on NBC, “Take it All”. We caught only the last fifteen minutes, during which the remaining two contestants were faced with the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” — the gaming-theory technique whereby two individuals must decide independently whether to cooperate, and their decisions impact whether and how much each wins: If both decide to “share”, each receives her individual prizes (i.e., both win); if both decide to “take it all”, neither gets anything (i.e., both lose); but if one decides to “share”, while the other says “take it all”, the person who said “take it all” gets the winnings of both players, while the person willing to share gets nothing.
The game show contestants were likable people — an older gentleman who wanted to use whatever winnings he obtained to help send his grandchildren to college, and a woman who wanted to purchase books for a school or underprivileged children or some such worthy cause. Clearly both were well-intentioned people, respectable people, people trying to “do the right thing” in this confusing world.
As the man discussed what he was thinking about the decision between “sharing” and “taking it all”, he said: “For me to arrogantly say, ‘I’ll take it all,’ is to spit in G-d’s face.” Because the man so clearly expressed that he would share, the woman decided to “take it all” . . . and take it all she did. The woman was incredibly excited that she had won even more money for books.
I can’t stop wondering whether the extra books were worth the “price” that she paid for them. Nor have I stopped being sad about the fact that she seemed to not even comprehend that she had paid a price . . . a price the rest of us are paying it with her.
I can imagine many people would tell me to calm down because it’s just a game show — but is it just a game show??? Gaming theory isn’t just about creating games; it is about trying to help us understand how and why people make the decisions that they do.
And Prisoner’s Dilemma does occur in real world contexts, probably more often than we have noticed. Children on a playground who always “take it all” are bullies who eventually have no friends. People always willing to share become doormats … because others are more than happy to “take it all” more often than they should. The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is fueled by extremists on both sides of the conflict who refuse to share, whose “all or nothing” mentality creates a living hell for millions of people who really are willing to share.
Is it always easy to find the middle ground so that compromise can be made? No!
Is it easier to see everything as “black and white,” and to stand firm in our belief that the solution that benefits us, regardless of the cost to the other, is the only viable or reasonable solution? Of course it is!
But when will we, as individuals and as a society, finally accept that the easy solution is not working????
Respecting the needs and feelings of the other.
Recognizing that peace – between individuals and between nations – will occur only when all involved parties accept that “take it all” is no longer a viable response.
Knowing that each of our decisions has long-term consequences for how we, and others, will decide in the future.
Believing that the fate of each of us is intertwined, such that I cannot reach my highest potential without simultaneously helping you reach your highest potential.
Understanding that every person is part of The One.
Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
On “Take It All,” the male contestant stood there and told the female that to take it all was to spit in G-d’s face, and she chose to spit. His message really was for all of us. The next time we have to decide whether to “share” or to “take it all,” what will we choose?