Sunday, June 26, 2011


June 26, 2011

Hello, friends,

This week the world as text occurred in a distinction made in a card game.

The cousins were staying at their grandmother’s house over the weekend, their annual meeting of the Cousins Club. On this particular afternoon they were engaged in a highly contested game of cards. Grandmother and I were sharing iced tea and a good conversation in the kitchen when the reasonably peaceful game in the family room suddenly erupted in argument.

“Aw, come on, Neil,” growled Robert, the oldest of the cousins. “You know you have to discard,” he insisted in his best now-shape-up voice. “You have to lay down one of your cards. It’s the rule.”

“No,” said Neil, firmly, in his best won’t-be-bossed-around voice. “All of these cards have value. It’s not logical to throw any away.”

Neil, a precocious nine-year old, has recently discovered “logic,” and is busily exploring how this cognitive tool works. In the world as text for Neil, the card game provided a confrontation between the “good” logic of following the rules and the “good” logic of breaking the rules for self-advantage.

And, unspoken, Neil was also grappling with a verbal distinction he sensed but could not yet say. Did the rules specify discard or relinquish ? (Neil’s parents, grandparents and siblings all anticipate he’ll become a noted jurist if he decides to enter law as a vocation.)

In our consumer society, discarding things (and people, too) is a common activity. The general idea seems to be that there is always something new and exciting, something more effective, more interesting, more comfortable “out there,” a bargain as close as on-line shopping (free shipping for the canny shopper), or a relational adventure with a new person from a dating service who may text or call.

In this sense, the act of discarding carries a value connotation. To discard is to dispose of something (or someone) to make place for something (or someone) of superior value. To discard is to get rid of, to cast off, to dispense with something (or a relationship) in which the value does not merit the cost and trouble of its maintenance.

In previous hands in the card game, Neil had discarded without protest. What was it about this hand that raised a point of contention with Robert, the rule-keeper?

In this hand, Neil was confronted with a dilemma: he held no cards that he deemed of little value. How could he discard?

In this circumstance relinquish becomes a helpful word with which to make an important distinction.

Giving up something is not always the by-product of greed or the impatient pursuit of novelty and excitement. Neither does the act of letting go necessarily denote little or no value in the object (or person) given up. There are places in life and relationships when leaving things behind becomes necessary for survival even though the process may be painful and confusing. There are circumstances too in which relinquishing valued things becomes an essential part of clearing the path before the next step forward can be undertaken. Change requires us at times to let go of some things, including some that may be highly valued, before we can pick up that which is essential for further growth and maturity.

As in many board games, the game of life sometimes requires us to discard before we can continue to play. This process, for the most part, is a rather painless piece of business-as-usual, the change process in which the old and less valued is disposed of with (perhaps) a twinge of nostalgia but with little or no regret.

However, sooner or later, like Neil, we find ourselves facing the issue of relinquishment rather than discarding. We must lay down that which we hold tenaciously, knowing its value today, in order to move toward an uncertain goal whose value we know only in part, a shape in the clouded mirror of tomorrow.

Thinking with you of the courage it requires to change when relinquishment rather than simple discard becomes the necessity posed by choice.

See you next week.


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