Monday, 25 March 2013

All I need to know about life I learned playing cards with Grandad

This blog post is dedicated to my Grandad, Herbert Edward Walmisley:  March 25, 1895 – December 24, 1977

Today, March 25, 2013, is my Grandad's birthday.  He would have been 118, exactly 100 years older than Corin.  Grandad died when I was 17 and Lala (which is what we called my grandmother) went to live in another city, but before that, their house was my favorite place to be.  I spent hours with Grandad discussing everything from the meaning of life to how to grow the best runner beans.  We did the Times crossword together.  We watched Upstairs Downstairs. He listened to my hopes and dreams, he encouraged me, he told me stories about his childhood, being in the trenches in World War 1, and his days as a cavalry officer in India.  He taught me lots of things, including French verbs and proverbs,  chess, mathematics, how to draw in perspective, card tricks, and card games.  

Here’s what I learned playing cards with Grandad:

  • You don't choose your cards.
  • Some cards are better than others.  
  • You need both luck and skill.
  • There are winners and losers. 
  • There are rules.
  • Some people cheat.
  • In some games you can change your cards.
  • Sometimes you have to take a chance.
  • Eventually you run out of cards and the game ends.

How can these lessons be applied to the game of life?    

1.  Play the good cards wisely:  If you have good cards, you’re lucky.  Make the most of them because when they're gone, they're gone.  As Grandad would say, 'don't throw them away.'   Use your talents, don't waste them.  If you have money, invest it in something with a long term payoff, like a house or education.  

What is the most important card of all?  Grandad knew, of course.  He used to ask me ‘if you could have just one wish, what would it be?’  My 13-year-old self always had the same answer:  ‘a horse.’  I remember him gently making the case for health being the better answer.  He was right.  Good health is your ace of trumps – if you’ve got it, don’t squander it.   One day you'll need to play it.      

2.  Develop strategies to compensate for the cards you lack:  If you didn’t get many, or any, good cards, it’s no use bemoaning your bad luck or comparing yourself to others who were dealt a better hand (or who cheated).  Sometimes you just don’t have the card you need in a particular situation, and, guess what?  It isn’t your fault.  Remember, you don't choose your cards.  There is no magic bullet for fixing a bad hand, but there are some things you can do.  

(a)  If you don't have enough 'money' cards, you probably only have two options.  Like Jurgis in The Jungle and Boxer in Animal Farm, you can adopt the maxim ‘I must work harder'; or, you’re going to have to cut back on expenditures.  Sometimes, both are necessary.  (Sorry, folks, no rocket science here!) 

(b)   Low on 'good looks' cards?  A lot has been written (here’s a link to an article in The Economist) about how attractive people have easier lives, and how less attractive people have to work harder to get others to like them.  This affects their success in all aspects of life including relationships and careers.  That's just the way it is.  Life's not fair.  But, looking on the bright side, working harder at being nice can't be all bad.

 Maybe you think you need more 'intelligence/talents' cards?  In fact, everyone has talents and intelligence, but there are different types (see Gardner’s theory of ‘multiple intelligences’).  The difficulty is that not all types are equally valued, depending on what part of the world you live in.  What to do?  Try the creative approach.  What did you like best at school? What are your interests and hobbies?  Ask your friends what they like about you, and what they think you are good at.  Then visit a career advisor to see how you can capitalize on your unique skills.  

(d)  The more cards you have in your 'support network', the better.  In good times, you have people to share your happiness; in hard times, you have help and moral support; and in neutral times, you have company.  An effective support network means that there is always someone who 'has your back'; that you will always feel cared for and valued.  If you didn't get the 'supportive family' card, you'll have to build your own network of friends.   It’s harder work, but it’s well worth it because having strong cards in this area goes a long way to make up for deficits in others.  

(e)  Choose the right career.  This is the one single thing you can do that has the most potential to counteract the effect of bad cards and maximize the effect of good ones.  The right job can bring you happiness, fulfillment, a support network, and financial independence.   If you are young, the game is just beginning.  See a career advisor so that you can get it right the first time.  If you are older, and the game is already underway, it's not too late to change.  There may be significant obstacles to overcome; chances are, you will have to play some or all of your trump cards to make it happen.  But that's OK.  If you need them, play them.  That's what they're there for.  As Grandad used to say, 'what are you saving them for?'  

3.  Respect others.   The rules are there for a reason.  Play fair.  Don’t cheat.  Wait your turn.  It’s not all about you.  There are other people playing the game.  They deserve the same opportunities that you have.   

Respecting others also means not comparing yourself with, or judging, others.  Everyone starts the game with different cards.  Your cards determine how you see the world, how you play the game, how you problem solve.   Others, having been dealt different cards, are living in a different version of reality. 

 There are some people playing the game who don't respect others.  Some people don't play fair; some people cheat.  You will most likely run into some of these people in your life.  Although you can take steps to protect yourself from the most predictable forms of cheating, sometimes it's out of your control.  Sometimes you won't see it coming.  Don’t let it change you; accept it as a cost of playing the game.  

At the end of each hand, Grandad and I would analyze how it had gone, and he'd give me tips for the next game.  He'd say things like 'you should have brought your trumps out earlier' or 'you played your queen of clubs too soon.'  I don't remember us ever paying much attention to who had won.  We didn't care.  What was important was how we'd played the game. 

Here are some pictures of Lala and Grandad as I remember them best:  In 1973, at their Golden Wedding (left) and in the summer of 1977, in Bournemouth (below).

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