Friday, September 24, 2004

Trust Issues

The high school prom was something many of my classmates were eager to attend. But since I did come from a semi-conservative Jesuit school, many steps were taken to “educate” us in the proper way of behaving in such an event. One of them was attending an orientation, and one of the speakers was a father. He told us that he wanted us to go home on time and bring home our dates on the agreed upon time. “It’s not that we don’t trust you. It’s the sons-of-bitches out there that we don’t trust.” At the time, it made perfect sense: our parents were worried about us and there are many random factors out there in the world that could present a danger to us. However, after hearing that line several times over the years, used in different contexts, that statement is flawed at best, and at worst, an outright lie.

The statement above could be paraphrased as such: “It’s not you but rather everyone else that I don’t trust.” It’s been used by people concerned about us: our parents, our significant other, sometimes even our friends. For the sake of argument, I’ll tackle first the situation where the people saying that statement actually believe it.

Obviously, we shouldn’t trust everyone. A lot of people are capable of deceiving and hurting other people, after all; that’s why we have thieves, con artists, robbers, rapists, murderers, etc. However, the opposite isn’t true as well. We cannot distrust everything and everyone. People with that kind of behavior are called paranoid. If everyone didn’t offer some level of trust, no one would be friends with each other, since each one is expecting the other to make a show of trust without offering it themselves. To some extent, we trust other people; we trust our cook not to poison our food, we trust our teachers to educate, we trust our accountants to manage our finances, etc. We cannot go on living our lives thinking that everyone else will be hostile to us, except in really dire situations (i.e. war, a recent catastrophe, etc.). And even then, as social beings, we need some level of trust to coexist with other people. Without that, I can’t “live”. I mean if I truly believed that the world is hostile, I wouldn’t come out of my house. Or if I did, I’d come out wearing a bullet-proof vest, a space-suit to ward off biological weapons, and carry a machine gun to shoot anyone I see. But we don’t do that. Rather, we come out of our houses dressed in plain clothes (sometimes even less) and carry our expensive accessories (i.e. jewelry, mobile phones, watches, etc.). But as reality would prove it, not everyone gets mugged everyday. Sure, there are incidents of theft and murder, but it’s not a regular occurrence to any particular person. I’m not saying that we don’t take precautions against it, but rather that we really don’t expect it to happen to us every single day. As much as we trust the people we know, we also do extend a certain amount of trust to the people we don’t know and they in turn extend it to us as well. That’s how we managed to coexist with others.

Should we be worried about our children, significant other, and friends? Of course! But we can’t cradle them nor treat them like fragile glass. Life is difficult and in the end, we can’t always be there to watch over them. Everyone needs to learn to be independent, at least to a certain extent. Yes, it is entire possible they will get into trouble. And sometimes, they do get into trouble. But people truly lose themselves when they allow traumatic events to conquer them. We can recover. Don’t let an incident or two ruin your whole life; it won’t happen everyday. We only breed distrust which leads only to further distrust when we use the excuse “we don’t trust other people” as an excuse. The eventual outcome to that would be the recipient asking the dictator “why should we trust you?”

Of course the other scenario we have is that people merely use that statement as an excuse rather than genuinely believing it. And why not, it’s the easiest thing to say, isn’t it? I’m not putting blame to the person I’m talking to yet I have a valid excuse to restrict the person. What they fail to see is that when they use this statement, it’s not a statement they believe in: they’re lying, whether to themselves or to the other person. The only person they don’t trust is either the person they’re talking to or themselves. This is usually the case with worried parents who don’t think that their children will behave appropriately when not supervised, or by jealous lovers who think that their significant other will leave them for a more “worthy” lover.

Again, to impose such a thing is flawed. We are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. We cannot know everything that the other person will do. There will come a time when we are not watching. When that happens, there’s not much we can do to make a demand from them. All we can do is to trust that the other person won’t disappoint us. And in the end, that’s all we can do. I mean if a child is really rebellious or if a lover is really unfaithful, we can’t really change that (we can attempt to do so and it might work temporarily but in the long run, they will do what they will). The moment they’re free of us, they will do as their will dictates.

Perhaps what’s worse is that we show a lack of faith and trust in the other person, even if it’s not warranted. I mean a son or daughter doesn’t really want to disappoint his or her parents. If they’ve behaved well so far, what reason do they have to rebel? Or if they do, then there’s probably a good reason why they did it. People, after all, don’t change overnight. Similarly, those with significant others have the same kind of problem. If they’ve made a commitment with you, then it’s most likely they’ll stick to it, unless they have a previous record of not doing so. In the bigger picture, the lack of faith here is not at the other person but towards the self. People with low self-esteem usually make this kind of mistake. They think that they’re not worthy of the other person or that everything’s working out too well that something must go wrong, and it’ll probably come from the other person. What they fail to see that it is this kind of mentality that brings them to ruin, and probably what drives off other people.

To trust is a delicate issue. Sometimes, it’s not merely a matter of trusting the other person or not. We often forget that the person we should trust also includes ourselves. If I didn’t trust myself, I wouldn’t be writing this entire essay. And if I didn’t trust my readers, I’d be committing social suicide by publishing this.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

All I Need to Know I Learned from Magic: The Gathering

Even though it's been four years since I last played (well, played extremely competitively that is) Magic: The Gathering (although I've learned and played nearly a dozen other CCGs in between), there's a number of things that I learned from the game that is still very applicable to my daily life. Here they are:

1) Play with the hand you're dealt with: much like playing Poker and other conventional card games, the only options worth considering are those in front of you--namely what you drew. It's really useless to think of what-ifs and other possibilities when in reality, the only actions you can really take are those that involve the cards that you have. Similarly, in real life, it's useless to bitch about how you could have been more fortunate or luckier. Deal with it and make the most out of it. Sure, I may have a terrible hand, but that doesn't mean I can never win the game. It all depends on how I plan my next moves, which brings me to my next point.

2) Plan ahead and familiarize yourself with your deck: your deck determines what you can do, and whether you can win the game or not. If you don't know your deck, then you can't really plan for the future since you don't know what to expect from your own cards (it's already bad enough that you don't know what you're opponent is going to play next but being unable to plan your succeeding moves is just plain stupid). Similarly, know your own strengths and weaknesses as a person, and plan ahead using that as a starting point. If you don't know what you're capable of, then you can't make a good plan. For example, someone who knows he is horrible at math will either avoid occassions (such as taking a course that involves statistics) that involve higher math or will do some intensive studying in order to cope. If you don't know what you're capable of, you might find yourself way out of your league, and end up embarassing yourself to say the least.

3) Do your research: no matter what kind of game you're playing, it pays to do research. Some of the best Magic: The Gathering players are people who do research, whether it's the rules of the game, the meta-game environment (i.e. the popular decks people use in a certain area), or the spoiler list for the upcoming prerelease tournament. Similarly, if you plan to excel in whatever venture you plan to do, do your homework! While it's possible to succeed with sheer talent and luck, your chances of succeeding are better when you know what you're up against. It also gives you more info to formulate a better plan or strategy.

4) Synergy is good: certain cards work well when combined with other cards. When building a deck, keeping in mind your end goals makes it more efficient and useful. A counterspell deck, for example, has lots of counterspell cards. Certain cards also make great combos (i.e. a "Channel" card, which gives you mana, and "Fireball", a spell that is powered by your available mana, is a deadly combination). Similarly, some of the actions we take are better suited than others when we look at it from a larger perspective. Enrolling in a writing class, for example, is good if we want to improve our writing skills, but what would make it even better would be spending our weekends joining a workshop or two, and writing something everyday just to make it a habit. Dieting is also a good example: eating less in one particular meal is less effective than a diet planned out for the entire week, which involves not only eating the right foods but proper exercise and healthy habits as well.

5) There's no such thing as a perfect deck: not all decks or cards are equal. Some do better against particular cards, while others are optimized towards a different goal. The same goes with real life. That doesn't mean that you're inferior to a particular person: merely that he or she is optimized for certain situations. Accepting that painful fact helps you recognize your own strengths and weaknesses, and lets you know when to adjust your strategy.

6) Know when to give up: sometimes, you'll be put in a situation where you can't win the current game. Sometimes, it's best to concede (so that you don't reveal the rest of your strategy to the opponent), while at other times, it's best to fight on (whether it's because you still have an actual chance of winning or whether you want your opponent to reveal more of his strategy and cards). The same goes with real life. There are moments when we need to move on, while there are times when struggling on helps us reach our goal eventually. Knowing the difference is pivotal and sometimes it's pretty difficult to differentiate between the two, which is why research and planning is important.

7) You don't need to have all the cards to build a good deck, just know where to get them: no one has infinite resources so trading becomes an essential tool for any CCG player. Finding the best deals, whether it's purchasing cards at single prices, trading for them, or buying booster packs in bulk, becomes a key element. Similarly, I don't need to have "everything" before I start any venture. Knowing how to maximize my existing resources, exchange it for other services, or plainly knowing how to avail of other options, is an essential element. For example, if I want to be a scientist, I don't need to memorize everything in the text book. All I need to know is not how to learn all the information but rather how to find and discover specific information that I will need.

8) Be friendly and courteous to other people: CCGs are social games--you need someone else to play with, and you're most likely getting your supply of cards from a living being. Giving the other person respect and courtesy is essential. The same goes with life, since you can hardly excel if anything if you make too many enemies. I'm not saying you should be a wallflower and let everyone push you around, but that unless provoked, it's suitable to be on your best behavior. You also might get the best deals because of that.

9) Learn to bluff: knowing what the other person is thinking is a decisive factor in games. In order to catch your opponent off-guard, you sometimes have to bluff. This usually means thinking of doing something with your cards even if they're all useless, or pretending to do a stupid move because you have a surprise in store for the opponent. In life, this usually means saying things not necessarily untruthfully, but with confidence. For example, when making a presentation in front of other people, say it with conviction, even if you're unsure of half of what you said. This might also mean not revealing all your options to other people, merely mentioning the obvious ones.

10) Work hard, feel confident, and just do it: you may be the best player in the world but unless you join tournaments or events, you won't be recognized. Life's like that as well: we're "theoretically" good at something, but unless we exert effort at it, feel that we can actually do it, and actually perform it, all will be for naught. In the end, it's our actions that count. All the planning in the world will come to no end if don't manage to execute it effectively.