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Zero Sum Living

Photo by Chris Liverani
Photo by Chris Liverani

In the July 3, 2019, edition of The Christian Century, publisher Peter W. Marty wrote an article on Zero-sum living. Zero-sum game theory works on the basis that there must be winners and losers in this life of ours. He writes:

The scorekeeping and power displays inherent in this win-or-lose approach are uninspiring at best and vengeful at worst. There’s nothing lovely in thinking that my happiness requires someone else to be unhappy or that my appreciation for what I have in life depends on someone else having less.

Zero-sum living rears its head in our nation’s political life, in sports, in immigration policies, in economics, in protection of our environment, etc. Most disconcerting is when it mixes with the gospel. Marty writes:

Some Christians wonder what joy their salvation will bring if God saves everyone—as if joy in salvation depends on the misery of some people being damned. This kind of perverse zero-sum thinking has no place in the economy of God.

On the other hand, we must recognize that there will always be winners and losers in certain endeavors. Some people are more gifted as doctors, lawyers, scientists, mathematicians, manual laborers, artists, authors, musicians, and artists. Realizing one’s limitations can be a good thing. Why try to be something you either have no interest in or no talents. We all learn to be resilient through our loses and/or through our limitations. We learn by doing and hopefully be a contributing member of society.

Maya Angelou has two statements that should be considered. They are:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.


Think about it

  • Do you or your family live to win at all costs against your competitors? Why?
  • How does our society foster zero-sum living? Give some examples.
  • Is there anything you can do to reverse a zero-sum living mentality? What might it be?
  • If you are on the losing end of this mentality, what can you do to protect yourself yet foster love, kindness, grace, and charity towards others?