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A thought inspired by Sunday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 40

A thought inspired by Sunday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 40

Play the game or change the game.

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This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.

Someone just hurt you and you want to hurt them back.

It doesn’t matter whether it was a significant event or a minor inconvenience; delving deeper into the dynamics involved will raise many of the same issues.

Of course, the urge to respond in kind, to hurt because we’re hurt, on a roughly proportional level, is a core instinct that requires inhibitory control. This control almost always fails to manifest itself quickly enough to prevent the angry words from coming out of our mouths or activation of those parts of the brain that will put us in a new vengeful state of mind. Nevertheless, the rational arguments for and against this behavior are worth considering.

We play games at many levels from the tiniest interaction between two people at one extreme, to the game of life at the other, and our first impression is that someone has just violated the rules of some game. However, while they might indeed have violated a game we wish to be playing, it is equally valid to say that they are simply playing a different game; a more selfish game with more aggressive rules.

Whenever we find ourselves suddenly caught up in a nastier game, we have two options, to play the new game or to change the game. If we choose to play the game, our strategy will be to respond in kind and to out-compete our opponents. On the other hand, we can refuse to play the new game and switch to another. For example, we might choose to revert to a larger game that seeks to make a better world, one in which nasty highly competitive games are rare.

However, the choice to refuse to participate in a tit-for-tat response to the behavior of the other, may not be above criticism. We might think that turning the other cheek, ignoring the pain caused to us by the other player and signaling to them that we will have nothing to do with selfish and aggressive behavior, is ethically superior, but it might not be.

First of all, refusing to respond in kind to bad behavior is a passive-aggressive assertion of superiority over the other. Secondly, by refusing to compete, we may allow the other to easily succeed in the goals they are trying to achieve while suffering no negative consequences. This will only encourage the other to repeat the same behavior at a future opportunity. If the goal in allowing them to have their way is to rid the world of nasty games, this strategy might only succeed in achieving the opposite of this intention.

We have little choice but to play some of the competitive games that make up our world. We are not the only ones setting the rules of the games we play. We may dislike the fact that social life across the world is structured by competition and aggression. Each of us is but one player in these many complex games, and the impact of just one individual is normally very limited.

Reaching for too much change, may just make things worse.

submitted by /u/eliyah23rd
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