Who Needs a Board?



     Sarah and I just returned from a great weekend with her parents in Minnesota. While there, her parents (avid Scrabble aficionados) taught us a new game. Instead taking turns, each person has their own playing area, in which they form words. You start with 14 letters and place the rest of the pieces face down in the middle of the table. When someone has used all of their pieces, they yell “Draw” and everyone must pull a piece out of the middle. If you get stuck, you may rearrange your pieces to create new words. When there are no more pieces to draw, the person who uses all of their pieces wins. The game went faster, was more competitive, and was more fun. 

     It got me thinking: Who needs a board anyway? Sometimes the rules and regulations are precisely what makes a game enjoyable. Other times, however, our preconceived notions of how a game ought to be played prevent us from discovering new, more enjoyable ways of playing. This weekend I experienced a paradigm shift in my approach to Scrabble. Had I held on to my assumptions that a board-game must be played on a board, I would have missed out. 

     I think it was Einstein that said “you cant solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” By definition, we don’t know which assumptions are keeping us from undergoing such paradigm shifts. It is the moment when we recognize our old paradigm for what it is that we are able to rethink everything in light of a new paradigm. How does this happen, then? Three things: a sharp mind, an open mind, and other minds.

     First, we must be able to think through to the end the logical consequences of our presuppositions. It is in this sort of process that we find out whether our assumptions hold water. This takes an immense amount of intellectual integrity and courage. Most of us are simply unwilling to admit when our presuppositions are illogical because the alternative is unnerving.

        Second, we need an open mind. I would never have discovered “boardless Scrabble” if I had resisted anything that didn’t match my views on what Scrabble should look like. When I say an “open mind,” however, I do not mean openness for openness’ sake. “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” (GK Chesterton) That being said, we should never assume that we know all there is to know, or that we have nothing to learn from a viewpoint different than our own. It could very well have been that Scrabble without a board is a terrible idea. But I wouldn’t have known either way if I hadn’t given it an honest shot.

     Lastly, we must interact with other people who might challenge our preconceived notions. Had I refused to play Scrabble with anyone other than my Weekly Scrabble Club (no, I don’t belong to one, but they are out there) I may never have had my old paradigm shattered. Too often we become insulated, never interacting with those who think differently than we do. This is certainly the case with many conservative Christians (it is a failure of the evangelical Christian culture that so many Christians come across as stand-offish and insulated). I have come to learn, however, that it is the case with almost all people. Very often, those who might describe themselves primarily as “tolerant” or “open-minded” prefer to interact with others who (surprise-surprise) share the same views as they do on most issues. As long as this is the case, entrenchment in previously held beliefs and assumptions seems much more likely than any paradigm shift.