Writing about life, leadership, faith, and anything else I find interesting.

Zero-Sum Mentality

Wikipedia: In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant's gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the other participants. If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero. Thus, cutting a cake, where taking a larger piece reduces the amount of cake available for others, is a zero-sum game if all participants value each unit of cake equally (see marginal utility).

Growing up in sports, I was conditioned to understand winning and losing. Yes, this was in the era of only getting a trophy or medal if you won. American soccer, starting at four years old, birthed into a passion for tennis that became highly competitive and a driver through my teenage years. Winning was everything. In my mind at the time, tennis was possibly the career path.

Competitive sports produces winners and losers. There is no participation medal, and no one remembers the 2nd, 3rd or 4th place. This is the zero-sum game. My win is your loss, and this mindset does not just birth out of sports - it’s much deeper than that. As Wikipedia explains, it is also embedded in our mathematical understanding, so it impacts our financial understanding and can drive the way we think about money and stewardship. If you stop and think about this concept, the zero-sum mentality just might drive many areas of your world.

What I have realized in my own life is, the "zero-sum game" mindset is dangerous and destructive. As a competitive person who can find myself very performance oriented, I have to be very cautious to not default to a zero-sum mindset. As Wikipedia describes, when a person gains, the other person loses. More often than not, this line of thinking is flat out incorrect. You see, this is a give and take system, the zero-sum game is all transactional, and the amount of cake we have grows or diminishes with every transaction. You see, this is jacked up, but we all deal with it. Jesus addressed this line of thinking. Look at his words in Matthew.

But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.
— Matthew 20: 25-28

The antidote to the zero-sum mindset is generosity. Generosity is not transactional; it is not based on a simple mathematical equation of gains and losses. It is rooted in giving, based on sacrifice. The generosity mind-set lived out means sharing ideas, investing in each other, blessing one another and expecting nothing in return. And the paradox of all this is found later on in Jesus words.

The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
— Matthew 23: 11-12

Lord search our hearts and reveal to us where our mindsets are counter to you ways.

Terry Storch