Dealing Life’s Cards

2 Jun


Bees in a hive. That’s what life feels like at times to me. A place filled with beings with interchangeable faces and limbs, each trying fruitlessly to declare to the world his or her unique value. But what separates one from another? Several years ago, in London, surrounded by fellow theatre lovers, I learned the answer.

During an acting exercise, everyone in our group of 12 was given a card from a deck to place on our foreheads so everyone but the card’s holder knew its value. Our task was to act out the person’s assigned status. In example, someone might bow or courtesy before the person holding a King and but snub the lad dealt the 2. This went on for about five minutes until we were asked to line up according to where we thought we fell in the deck. Of course, some were right on. Others had a bit of an identity crisis and took their place either much too high or low in the deck’s hierarchy.

It’s crazy how much that exercise mimicked how real life. How often do we judge our position, whether in a classroom, office, romance, family or work by the other’s spoken and unspoken nuances. I’m certainly guilty. At work, I watch how coworkers interact with other members to see where I fall on the totem pole. In my family, whether I like it or not, I subconsciously compare how my parents interact with me versus my younger sibling. On dates, I try to gage how I’m doing against the ever-present competition by counting phone and girl glances. Hey, it’s only human. And sometimes we’re dead on. Other times, like my colleagues in the exercise, we misread or simply ignore other’s cues and end up at the wrong end of the line. We become the tail when we have the capacity to be the head and assume the role of the top dog when we should perhaps earn our stripes a bit from the middle of the pack.

Back in March NPR ran a story about “A Slap In the Face: Why Insults Hurt — And Why They Shouldn’t” William Irvine’s book on insults. Inside its covers, the professor of philosophy explores the role of insults in society.

“It turns out that insults serve as a kind of social currency, allowing people to move up and down that hierarchy through a deft turn of phrase. ‘A hundred thousand years ago on the savannahs of Africa, if you were a solitary individual, you were dead very quickly,’ Irvine says. ‘So you joined a group. And then, once you joined a group, the question of how well you succeeded within that group was determined by your social rank within that group.’”

The important thing is not to give inevitable snubs too much weight. Take them with a grain of salt. And remember, ultimately what’s most important is what you think of yourself. That’s the way many of life’s 2’s rose to live like kings and how so many queens live beneath their priviledge. Even if you’re merely another little bee in the busy hive, you have to at least believe in your capacity for more: that’s the greatest gift life can bestow.

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