Tare

This Thanksgiving I attended to a number of traditional duties such as burning the turkey, forgetting the rolls and, of course, watching football. The Detroit-Chicago game was a moderately interesting affair in which Chicago pulled out a narrow victory, scoring 200 points to Detroit’s 197.

I realize you may remember the game differently. After all, Detroit scored 34 points this week, versus 17 points by Chicago. But that was just one game. Detroit and Chicago have played each other before and we don’t want to forget those other games. So I summed the scores for the nine games played in this decade and got a total of 200 to 197 in Chicago’s favor. Of course, for the traditionalists among us, we should sum the scores of all 169 games between these two teams, dating back to 1930 when Detroit was known as the Portsmouth Spartans. Being fundamentally lazy, I’ll leave this as an exercise for the more industrious.

Except for one or two data nerds, and the occasional die-hard fan, this is a silly exercise. Each game is viewed as an independent affair, resetting the score before each match. If we had to handle the baggage of all preceding games we could never enjoy the victory of the day. It would be just another incident in an endless string of games stretching from the distant past into some unknowable future, a form of reincarnation for sports with all the downside associated with reincarnation in general. (Think about it. After a few thousand lives, another one is not necessarily something to look forward to.)

We’re smart enough to reset the score before each game we play. Its too bad we’re not smart enough to do the same with our lives. We constantly keep score as we muddle through our days, keeping a running tally of every grievance and wrong thrown our way. Eventually, our tally sheet shows that we have been wronged by everyone so we are war with the entire world. Thus are curmudgeons born.

When I was a child, I overheard an adult talking about me. “Boy, when that boy gets mad,” he said, “he stays mad.” I took that as a compliment. After all, if you get upset over an injustice then you have a duty to remain upset as long as the injustice is still stalking about. Calming down is like walking away from a duty.

I’m talking nonsense again, aren’t I? Just as we start every game with a fresh score, we need to reset the score for each day as well. We simply can’t bear the cumulative burden of all injustices we encounter over our lives.

Scales have a tare function, which sets the scale to zero regardless of how much weight is currently in place. That allows us to measure the weight of a single additional item, not all other items that might also be present. We need to do the same with our lives, using a personal tare function to reset ourselves at the beginning of each day. (This is analogous to the Dale Carnegie concept of living in watertight compartments.)

Note that I’m talking about resetting our behavior, not our memories. We may start every game at zero, but we remember the past. There’s probably some nonagenarian Bears fan somewhere who’s still pissed over that 7 to 6 loss to the Portsmouth Spartans in 1930. The past gives spice to our daily victories and defeats. But it cannot be the whole meal. That is reserved for today.

Reset yourself each day, resolving to respond to today’s challenges alone. It’s a good way to preserve your sanity, opens the door for unexpected victories and is the first step to forgiveness. Even to those despicable Spartans.

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