A modern-day parable
Imagine sitting down to play a board game with your friend.
Your friend tells you that even though there are rules, the rules are outdated and the game should be played with new rules that are made up by the players. This seems strange, and you have trouble seeing why the rules that came with this old game need to be changed, but since you want to be cordial to your friend, you go ahead and play, hoping for the best.
During the game, your friend changes the rules every turn. One turn, a piece has one function, the next turn the same piece does something else. One turn, landing on a square brings you closer to the goal, and on the next turn, landing on that very same square sets you further away from the goal. The game is getting more and more complicated at each passing turn, but you forge ahead, sticking with the old rules as best as you can to navigate the unfolding chaos.
After a few turns, you realize that the game makes no sense, and, worse, it seems like your friend is using the rules with the sole purpose of beating you rather than playing a good game. Though your friend at first seemed only to want to have a friendly game, their behavior is turning out to be pretty selfish and ugly, and, too often, it seems directed at hurting you, which definitely does not make for an enjoyable time. Eventually, you notice that your friend lies and moves the pieces around the game board when they think you’re not looking, and, as the game progresses, they begin to cheat even when you are looking!
After some time, you decide this is not a game, but an exercise in madness. You demand that if you’re going to continue to play the game with your friend, there have to be rules, and there’s really nothing wrong with the rules that came with the game. You explain that the game makers play tested the rules for a long time before you received the old game as a gift many years ago, so it’s likely that the tried and true rules that players of this game have used for so long will work better than using freestyle rules made up by the players each and every turn.
You feel this way especially because your friend has shown, with his dominance and willingness to cheat, that you can’t rely on an honor system. If your friend had possession of himself, then a game with a loose set of rules might be possible, but you sadly conclude that your friend has no sense of justice or honor.
When you make this suggestion, of returning to the rules that came with the game, not only out of fairness, but also so that you can both enjoy the game together rather than wade through strangeness and uncertainty each and every turn, your friend becomes visibly angry. Shockingly, they call you all sorts of names and accuse you of things you never did. In fact, you saw them doing all of the things they accuse you of doing!
When you speak up to defend yourself, your friend gets even angrier, and threatens you, saying if you don’t continue playing the game according to their rules, which really aren’t rules at all, they will tell lies to your boss to get you fired, complain to your neighbors about you so they won’t invite you over for coffee anymore, and, for good measure, they even threaten your life. At this point, you decide that it would be detrimental to your safety and well-being to continue to play this game with your friend.
You are horrified at the threats made against you and wonder how this game became so warped and twisted? Has his rage always been there, just beneath the surface? Is my friend willing to destroy me to win this game at all costs?
You stand up from the table and calmly but firmly tell your friend, though you really did want to play the game with them, that a game with no rules where cheating is allowed is nonsensical and unfair. You also tell your friend that you cannot understand how they are so willing to destroy your life over this game, especially when they claimed to have come in peace to play as your friend.
Your friend, knowing that you have glimpsed their soul, stands up, and as they do they flip the game board violently, sending game pieces flying all over the room. They immediately head for the door, and, as they leave, they turn around and, with darkness in their eyes, they tell you they will be back with their other friends who like the new rules of this old game. Your friend abruptly walks off, leaving the door wide open.
Still shocked and shaking your head in disbelief about what just happened, you walk over to the door, gently close it … and carefully lock it. And then, after picking up all the scattered game pieces, you check all of your preparations to make sure they are ready in case your friend really does come back to carry out their threats.
Later, when the sun goes down, and darkness fills the earth, the sounds of ecstatic discord fill the night, yet you sleep peacefully, because in your dreams you see yourself playing the game by the old but good rules every day for the rest of your life.
©2022 Andrew Garofalo