At the end of the summer when my son goes back to school he’ll no doubt be asked about what he did by his teachers and classmates.  If he has his way he’ll be able to report that he was the summer 2010 Uno Champion.  While his big brother is acquiring as many friends as possible on Facebook Chase is busy challenging everyone he can to a game of cards.  He’s figured out it’s a really fun way to spend time together and it is.

Before the card craze started I had decided that summer 2010 with the boys had to be filled with all the simple pleasures of the season –  swimming, riding bikes, playing tennis, drive-in movies, sleeping in, 4th of July fireworks, and lots of summertime foods like fried chicken, potato salad, barbecue, and cold juicy watermelon.  I had no idea before that weekend that Uno would have to be added to the list but after my first decisive victory I wasn’t complaining.

I’m new to Uno but it seems that everyone else on the planet isn’t.  In my data bank Uno cards come in a box that’s on an end cap at Target along with games like Farkle and Crazy Eights. I’ve never played those so why would I pick-up Uno?  My boys haven’t really been into card games so I never paid much attention.  Little did I know Uno is one of the most popular card games in existence with more reincarnations than Barbie who happens to have a Cali Girl Edition where you can draw a friendship card that allows you to swap hands with another player.  OMG – I had no idea!

When Chase challenged me to a little Uno I never expected to actually like playing it.  I enjoy playing cards but prefer games like Gin Rummy while sitting poolside.  Saying “uno” when you only have one card left to play has only occurred to me when the waiter comes by and you can ask for “uno mojito por favor”.  However, Chase has found his competitive spirit and I really have no choice but to go along even if I don’t think of myself as someone who actually cares whether she wins or loses.   That was the case until we sat down to play and before the second deal I went from ambivalent to determined faster than the shuffle.

Something about those plus two, reverse, skip and wild cards was just intoxicating and there was no rum involved!  Oh what I could do if the action cards in Uno could be used in real life! Beyond this intriguing thought why did I care so much about mastering the game and winning?  Probably for the same reasons most of us care about winning.  We want to feel successful and let’s face it winning feels really good.

I was so proud of my big win first time out that I commented about it on it Facebook only to have my oldest son scold me for bragging which I deserved.  Besting your 14 year old at Uno isn’t really something to feel particularly proud of.  Unfortunately as much as I’d like to think I’m not insecure I am and in this case during that first game I somehow thought that winning mattered.  For some silly reason I needed to prove that I had value beyond putting a meal on the table.   I played a light-hearted game but inside I cared entirely too much.

Winning validates us giving us the stamp of approval we sometimes desperately need – so much so that we create all sorts of symbols for our wins.  Some of them are fairly benign.  For his Special Olympics wins this year Chase got several ribbons and he displays them on his bulletin board.  It seems harmless especially in light of it being the Special Olympics. Luke has a shelf full of trophies from his tennis tournament wins.  These aren’t as benign in my opinion because they’re a pain to dust. Aside from the cleaning challenge I know that Luke puts a great deal of pressure on himself to keep winning.  I don’t think the trophies are the reason but they don’t help matters.  He’s figured out that winning bolsters his sense of self.   He also believes that if he didn’t have tennis he wouldn’t have much of a social life which makes it even more important.  Tennis success equals social success in his economy and that’s a lot of weight to carry.

I’m no different.  I have a letter from the George H. Bush in my office that makes me feel good and one other framed commendation that I hung up because it’s hand painted and very pretty.  At least I tell myself that’s why.  Sometimes I look at those and think my work used to matter and now it doesn’t and that’s ridiculous.  Such stinking thinking I hate to admit to it.

Western culture values winning almost obsessively to the extent that we talk about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat far more than we do the idea that you can win while you play.  Our insecurities about losing creep into every area of our life giving birth to an inner monologue that erodes our sense of having any value apart from what we can master.  Sadly what that can translate into is wanting to master everything even people.

Jerry Seinfeld knows this and it’s why he created the, “Marriage Ref”.  It’s billed as a television show where every couple gets what they want out of a marital dispute – a winner.   A panel of celebrities hears the disagreement, offers their opinions to the referee, and then he makes the call.   It’s a very funny show but after a few episodes you begin to realize that little thought is given to what winning will cost.  When the stakes are low it’s not that big of a deal but when the stakes are high in a given scenario not much consideration is given to what will be left of the relationship once the winner prevails.  It’s a classic example of winning the battle but losing the war.  If your sense of self is all wrapped up in the battle everyone will lose.  These are victories few can afford.

We can’t afford them because relationships have more value than bragging rights.  The Pharisees had all the bragging rights and yet they didn’t actually know God.  They spent so much time trying to win every argument they missed the opportunity to defeat their egos and have meaningful relationships with others.  If you can’t figure out how to play with your family and friends who give you very tangible feedback you are going to have a hard time engaging an unseen God.  Relationships provide the reflection we need to see ourselves for who we really are but when you’re after a win you’re just looking at yourself in the mirror.

I’d like to think I’m not a Pharisee but sometimes my ego is so fragile that I need to fill the void with a win more than God.  I’m blinded by my need and lose sight of the reality that winning doesn’t matter.  There’s nothing to prove. How you play the cards you’re dealt is far more important in life than whether you win every hand.  A win apart from God is nothing and a loss without Him is insurmountable.

Fortunately Chase gets it far more than his Mom.  He wants to win and it will feel good but even with all his insecurities he realizes that no matter how the action goes down he’s still won.  He’s hanging with his family and having a good time and that beats anything.

  1. My husband was successful and popular. When he was dying of brain cancer, my kids said ‘Daddy used to be an important guy’. And I pointed out that as he chose experimental surgery and participated in new chemotherapy trials, he was STILL a really important guy, to his fellow humans who would develop brain cancer in the future and to God, as he lived out God’s plan for his life with dignity and courage. Did Manfred win or lose? In my eyes, he won!

  2. Well written! I enjoyed reading it but I won’t be playing Uno. Your mother and I used to play hearts to see who would do the dishes. I lost 95% of the time and, as a result, have dish water hands. I don’t play cards and wouldn’t even if the game was called Dos.


Leave a Reply