Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

Writing and playing poker as if they were activities worth doing well.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rubberneck or Avert Your Eyes

There are two common and very human responses to witnessing something bad happening in other people's lives. The first is a kind of involuntary voyeuristic fascination; this universally causes traffic jams everywhere there is vehicular transportation. The second is an instinctive turning away, or distancing; we don't want to catch the contagious disease, or associate with the weak member of the herd lest the predator focus on us as well.

I have witnessed both reactions in response to my recent lack of success. Some people just can't get enough of it: the thrill of schadenfreude is just too, too delicious. Others' immediate response is to point out all the ways in which I am doing something wrong and, by implication, how I am NOT LIKE THEM, NOT ONE BIT. In both cases, I think there's actually an underlying similarity.
"I'm struggling too. It's not my fault either. See, other players have the same difficulties, or worse, as me! No one ever really succeeds at this game anyway, unless they're really, really lucky. Her bad results just go to show that I'm not that bad myself."

"I'm doing fine. If someone else is having a hard time, it's because she isn't as good as I am, or because her attitude is all wrong, or because she isn't working at it enough."
I suspect that an individual's attitude toward others' success or failure in poker (or indeed any competitive undertaking) is primarily reflective of his own approach to the game and his own current state of success or failure. I'm not proud of it, but I know that mine often is, if I am not sufficiently introspective about it—which apparently is more often the case than I'd prefer.

There is, to be fair, a third response that can be just as reflexive for some: the urge to offer substantive help, support, or even just sympathy and companionship through the difficulty. Some people are genuinely able to offer useful guidance or comfort uncolored by either overt or unconscious feelings of superiority or just simple delight at not being in the other's predicament. Having been the lucky recipient of this sort of attention as well as the others, I can tell you that it is a relatively rare and lovely gift. Often the giver of that gift is someone who has survived the same challenge, and is thereby endowed with the direct experience of how it can best and most gracefully be overcome, as well as what kind of aid is actually useful and meaningful.

I think running bad is a little like getting lung cancer when you're a non-smoker. It happens; you didn't do anything specific to bring it on, but people keep asking you if you did. Everyone has advice on how to get better, but few of them will hold your hand (or your forehead) while you go through chemo. A lot of people will just disappear from your life, or avoid talking about "it" altogether, as if your daily routine were continuing as normal otherwise and you ought to be able to compartmentalize, for everyone else's sake as much as your own. But some of them, often cancer survivors themselves, will offer sound, practical advice on diet and exercise, recommend good physicians, listen to you vent without judgment (as, if they were lucky, others did for them), and offer strategies for coping with the rest of your life while you're ill. When you are in remission, they will celebrate with you and also help you find equanimity in the face of the possibility of recurrence.

If you are fortunate, you will actually emerge from the illness stronger, more self-aware, with better habits for maintaining your well-being and a keener understanding of what is and isn't within your control. And if you are truly blessed, you will have learned how to live well even under the most adverse circumstances.

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Blogger Crash said...

Yes, yes, I was that third, good kind.

4/26/09 4:58 PM  
Blogger Philly said...

I like what you said because it's so true.
Most people experience some amount of joy in other people's woes.
I will tell you this. I read your blog because you are honest and because you do something that I find interesting.
At times I do feel voyeuristic, but I never, ever feel good about your losses.
I don't offer advice because I'm ill-equipped.
I silently cheer for you and I like the way you write.
There are probably more like me out there, so just know that we support you and want you to succeed.

4/26/09 5:31 PM  
Blogger Cardgrrl said...

@ Crash: Of course... aren't we all? ;-)

4/26/09 5:38 PM  
Blogger Mike Wilson said...

I've just been trying really hard to break the well intended habit of thinking I'm "able to relate", but what mostly likely seems like obnoxious "me too"ing or oneupmanship.

The similarities seem haunting between 'running bad' and being off my trading game.

This weird detachment between skill and results is something I think I'm just ill equipped to handle emotionally. If I do the right stuff I need to get the right result. None of this "51% success is success, just adjust for scale" nonsense. I can't take it.

My hope is that it's some simple emotional maturity thing since you've got a bit healthier a dose of it than I by any reasonable estimation ;)

But I'll always read and have always read.

4/26/09 11:44 PM  
Blogger Crash said...

I really am of the third kind, as far as motivation to comment is concerned. Whether my advice is helpful, I will leave up to you.

4/27/09 12:27 AM  
Blogger Freight Train said...

Hey CG.
New to the blog. floated here from Grump's place. Love it. now i'm a regular.
appreciate the honesty and authentic insight that is so lacking in most blogs.
not much to say about topic at hand, other than hang in there. this to shall pass. i may have a post in the near future about something i've noticed at lower limits...LAG players get paid off far more often and in larger quantity than TAG. doesn't seem fair being TAG myself. anyway...

4/28/09 1:01 PM  

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