Friday, March 27, 2015

Planning Your Death

Previously, I've opined the merit of contemplating the ramifications of our death. The likelihood that ones existence will end at that moment is so compelling it can inspire us to live the remainder of our lives with extra joyful zing.  Alongside such personal revelation, there is a practical side to planning for our death and although such preparation can bit macabre at a level, it can also enhance our acceptance of our passing, ease the pain and stress of the physical downward spiral, and importantly enable our ability to implement a legacy of kindness once we are gone.

Live Long with Laughter?
At first blush, confronting the tasks needed to ensure as good a death as possible might seem to require the detached mindset that only a bean-counting engineer could muster.  Perhaps, there is an aspect of truth to that, just as disposing of ones toenail clippings in a suitable trash receptacle using sterile nail scissors requires an informed disposition.  Without preparation, dying and death itself can become a truly traumatic affair for both the individual and their circle of loved ones.  On the other hand, with responsible, caring foresight the death transition can minimize unnecessary grief and pain and maximize the effective hand-off of influence and compassion post mortem.

As in so many other aspects of life, effective communication is paramount in planning for ones death. To this ends, it is our responsibility to reach out to the persons closest to you for a conversation about the emotional nuances and the physical tasks that will be involved.  No blog post, mortician pamphlet, or solitary brainstorm can flesh out the details better than a heartfelt, open-ended discussion.  Laughter and tears may very well be part of this, and perhaps will serve as your first coping mechanism to staring down Mr. G. Reaper.

In your discussions you'll want to touch on all the physical, emotional and financial facets involved in deathly transition.  Consult a checklist like OK to Die (The Preparing for Death Checklist) to ensure you cover all the bases.  What is important to someone will vary widely and be affected by their world view, personality, and financial state of affairs.  Importantly, you'll want to create legal documents like a living will and a power of attorney.  Legal Depot (Free Legal Documents) is one source that provides template documents that you can customize for your locale and situation.  I was able to write mine up and get them notarized for about $20. If your estate or wishes are more complicated, by all means consult a lawyer to construct these documents.

Whatever you specify, be sure the person you provide power of attorney to is well informed of your desires.  From advance directive DNR particulars to environmentally green burials or a memorial service that meets your spiritual and musical wants, the surest way to ensure they are implemented effectively is to have someone you depend on advocating for you.  Passing on gifts to those you care about or donations to organizations that you feel are worthy is another way to help your legacy serve positively in the world you've handed off to the next generation.

This post is not meant to provide a complete blue-print to the proverbial coffin.  In fact you may already have a plan at the ready.  Still whether it's a good time for an annual review and update of your final directives consider setting aside some time to develop a plan for the inevitable end-of-life cycle.  The people you care most for will appreciate you all the more when they must face the resulting sadness of your passing, the well crafted punctuation point you planned for as a part of a life that celebrated living!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Poker Imitating Life

The Rewards of Friendship
Okay, let's go for a gaming post trifecta!

As I indicated in my past two posts, games often simulate real life scenarios.  In an abstract sense, games embody aspects of real life, in fact, this is likely why we enjoy them so.  Could even a game of poker be revealing as to how we can develop positive relationships?

Well, obviously there are face cards in a standard playing deck and that is coincidence enough to begin drawing parallels to making successful face to face connections with other people.

Just as in a hand of poker, you are dealt a beginning hand in life.  In Texas Hold'em, the poker game of choice for the past decade, that amounts to receiving two cards face down. In real life, one might call the first card your acquired genetic hole card, and the second your accumulated circumstance hole card.  You are stuck with those two cards no matter what you do, save cheating outright (nose jobs and repressing your past qualify).  Alas, I will not be encouraging the pursuit of such tactics in our current simulation assessment.

Sticking to the Texas Hold'em template, you now have your two cards face down and it's time to make your first bet.  Actually that's skipping an all important step: assessing not only your personal hole cards, but also the outward characteristics of other people at the table. To win a hand in poker you either have to have the final, strongest hand, or you need to scare away the rest of the field. Analogous to poker, we assess people for qualities that we find important in friendships; those qualities of course will vary depending on whether you're looking for a casual acquaintance, a hangout buddy or the evasive "one and only"soul mate.

Finally, the all important first bet:  in the extreme, your bet (check, raise, or fold inclusive) are your sole methods of official communication within the rules of the game.  Of course, unofficially there are "tells" which may prove useful as well. These "tells" pretty much include all the things you and your competitors unintentionally communicate with body language, tone of voice, etc. Similarly, communication is paramount when cultivating a nascent relationship, in part embodying the experience, and in part feeling the connection out.

In Hold'em after the first bet has been made, three new community cards, "the flop" are...well....flopped over.  New poker game information!  Information that you share equally with the rest of the table.  Which in our companion seeking analogy amounts to new shared events!  Whether it's a romantic excursion, or a conversation over a beer, or even well....hanging out at a poker tournament, the relationship is nourished by the common experiences, wehther it be an exchange of ideas, jokes, flirtation, or whatever.

In our game paradigm, after the flop we have another bet (more communication) and then the flipping of two more community cards (the "turn" and the "river") each followed by another betting cycle, which of course parallels the ongoing assessment of the progress in a growing friendship.  Each player at anytime has the option to fold, if ones hole cards aren't quite matching with all the external variables.  And so it is always our individual option, to walk away (ideally with kindness) from a friendship that is not panning out.

Nevertheless, if two or more players are still in the game after the final bet, they finally compare hands and the strongest hand collects the accumulated pot.  You might think the parallel of developing a friendship stops there, and in this case I'm going to agree!  Ideally in a mutual connection, both people should walk away with some of the winnings, some added value to show for the time and effort they invested.

Alas, a single poker hand does not make a poker game.  And so, with patience, seeking opportunities in subsequent hands, and perhaps even colluding (usually illegal in poker) to bring about a mutual acquisition of value, you just may very well develop a rewarding friendship.  If things didn't quite go according to plan, knowing yourself (and your budget) well enough to walk away with your pride (and bank account) intact for the thrill of participating is ones saving grace.

In the end if victory was not yours today, recognize tomorrow may bring yet another tourney your way!

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Industrialized Gaming Complex?

Last week I discussed how we integrate games in our lives to provide pleasure, enhance community, and hone real world skills.  There is a dark side to playing games, to be sure; and perhaps I downplayed that facet unconsciously in my post.

As with any tool developed by technology or evolved for adaptation, how the tool is actually used can have a wide range of effects on the well being of individuals or the larger collective.  A knife, for instance, can be wielded to slice bread or to kill an innocent, conscious animal; similarly, games can increase or decrease the amount of goodness in the world.
"Meet my little friend."

Negative aspects of gaming include gambling addiction, rule subversion (cheating), prejudice reinforcement, violence desensitizing, and treating people like disposable pawns on real battlefields,....not to mention playing Monopoly with Free Parking....okay that last is beyond even Cthulu's acceptability!

Now I'm sure you can come up with many real life examples where games are drafted into service to lure people into irrational behavior or to otherwise devalue real world beings, resources or situations. One might even consider the promise of an afterlife the ultimate bait-and-switch reward many religions have on offer to sway their followers that life is but a game to encourage undervaluing our mortal lives and the environment around us.

Caveat emptor.  It is our responsibility as individuals and as the organizations that represent us to assess the goodness of the gamespaces we interface with.  Playing Minecraft on a smartphone is grand, if it complements family cohesiveness and study ethic.  Lottery ticket purchases are fun and thrilling, if they don't transform ones budget into an economic blunder.

Perfunctory analysis of how games are implemented in our lives, from cradle to grave, can reveal their net positive, negative, and neutral effects on our reality.   Taking a step back from the instant gratification that games often create isn't necessarily easy, still an honest, open minded evaluation of their impact is part of the meta-game we need to play to win important outcomes (and have grand fun) in our lives.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Games That We Play

Release Your Inner Gamer!
It's been a long day at the office.  Your energy level is low; your mental state chaotic.  Part of you just wants to lay back and recharge; the rest of you wants to play!

The heart and soul of games lies in the pleasure of interactivity.  Whether playing some form of solitaire (where the game itself is your opponent) or participating with friends or strangers around a game table, our minds (and bodies to a varying degree) are engaged.

In a world full of complex issues needing careful attention, one might judge spending hours at a time rolling dice, shuffling cards and generally pursuing abstract winning conditions as a superfluous activity for the privileged first world.

The counterpoint is that gaming provides a spectrum of exercise for the mind and body, that is sorely lacking in ones working life.   Games are all about simulating abstract, fantastical, and often, realistic challenges, that hone our thinking and reaction skills for application when we return to creatively battling real world problems.  Additionally, it gives us practice at making mistakes that are fairly inconsequential, at worst we walk away having lost the game, perhaps having learned a lesson in losing with dignity.

Game competitions also build community, in particular with peaceful resolution at the core.  When players are immersed in a game, whether a physical team sport or a meticulous board game, we largely suspend our judgement of our opponents' economic class, cultural strangeness and personal differences.  Yet at the same time, the social nature of gaming brings us together in the common ground of the gaming space.

Ultimately, playing games seems to me to be among the high points of human civilization.  Once we've conquered our needs for health, shelter, and general safety, what remains is the desire to have fun.  Whether we play a complex Eurogame like Puerto Rico with our peers, a sillier game like Uno with our family members, or an intensely physical game like softball in a league of strangers, our very being thrives in the moment throughout the duration of play.

Game on!