July 19, 1990

Myths and Games

In our childhood we absorb the myths of our culture and learn to play the games that our parents and peers play. Those games and myths constitute an important part of the fabric of our lives.

Two important books in our time are Eric Berne's Games People Play and Joseph Campbell's The Power of the Myth. These two books have little in common except that both used words in the title that many of us feel connote the trivial. To many, the word "games" implies something of little or no consequence like hopscotch or tiddly winks. The word "myth" implies something that isn't true: a fairy tale.

Myths are what people live by and they are very important. Whether they are true or not is probably irrelevant. The victims of the Spanish Inquisition could point out the truths and fallacies of Judaism or Christianity; but they would be just as dead. If someone had a time machine and could prove without a shadow of a doubt that Moses, Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed never existed, it would make not one iota of difference in the ways that people behave. Almost no one in Germany has literally believed the Teutonic legends for hundreds of years. Yet, this doesn't effect the way that those legends affect people's attitudes and behavior. There are two world wars that testify to this.

Myths are ubiquitous, not just as parts of religions. They permeate every stratum and corner of society. Scientist have their sets of myths. One of these is the Myth of Objectivity. I have yet to meet a completely objective scientist, although scientists do tend to be more objective than evangelists.

There is no question in my mind that myths are very powerful. The myth may be literally true or literally false; but it is just as powerful either way. My life is organized around a series of myths as is the life of everyone else. Each of us believes in the validity, if not the literal truth, of those myths. Trivial? Hardly!!

There is nothing trivial about the game of war, nor in the games that people play with one another. They are deadly serious and people can die as a consequence. While the game of cops and robbers, as played by children, is merely a rehearsal for those roles in adult life, the similar game played by adults can be very deadly indeed. A game of sand lot baseball may be fun, but to a major league player, how he plays that same game represents how well or poorly his family will live. It is anything but trivial. How well one plays economic games can mean wealth or poverty.

All of us play interpersonal games. Even the Transactional Analyst, whose business it is to analyze games, plays his own set of games. When someone says "I don't play games!" he is either lying to you, to himself, or to both. Are games trivial? Hardly!

In our childhood we absorb the myths of our culture and learn to play the games that our parents and peers play. The games and myths are an important part of the fabric of our lives. Some people acquire some understanding of the games that they themselves and others play, as well as an awareness of the myths that they live by. It is easier to understand the games and myths of other; but some people do manage to get a handle on their own myths and games. That understanding can be a real eye-opener. Does it stop them from playing games or believing the myths? Very rarely, and then only in certain small specific areas; usually when specific games or myths are self-destructive.

A number of people have learned to reject the myth of their own inferiority and have stopped playing those games that might get them put in prison or killed.

If a person rejected all myths and games he probably wouldn't have a place to hang his hat --nor a hat to hang.

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