Chess as Life: A Check on Making Decisions

Chess As Life:  A Check on Making Decisions

How do you go about making a decision?

I like that question. During my local government days I was a member of a panel interviewing candidates for Police Officer positions. The Police Chief was also a panelist; that question was always part of his repertoire.  

Applicants would respond in different ways.  Some took a systematic approach explaining their response as you would execute a recipe for preparing a dish.  Others were strategic, first making an assessment of current circumstances, considering intended results, and then developing a plan of action.  There would be a third group that saw past results as indicative of future outcome and weighed carefully historical evidence.   All three methods had merit.  

It’s been said that “to err is human, to forgive divine.”  A good friend of mine took that a step further when relating to decision making in the work world.  She shared that “making a bad decision is forgivable; making no decision at all is not.”  So, using that as a premise, how do you go about making a decision? Further, how did you derive that process?

Many of us observed those who raised us and followed their techniques.  There may have been a sibling, teacher, coach, or other role model who provided an admirable template.  Television, movies, and various media had its share of heroes and heroines to mimic.  

What about games as a decision making influence?  

Chess has origins that can be traced back nearly 1500 years.  In my high school years I recall some lunchtime matches with classmates, inspired then by the epic contest between American Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union.  Today, in the midst of electronic games and entertainment, chess is again enjoying a renaissance in many classrooms, especially in some of our inner cities.  Not only does it still offer competition and challenge to participants, but renders an element of history, honor, and continuity representative of a throwback to a different time.

The lessons to be gleaned from this most ancient of games imitate life in many ways.  There are consequences to the decisions a player makes.  The successful player must not only anticipate his opponent’s next move, but strategically think ahead to their potential second, third, fourth, and fifth moves. Rules must be followed. Concentration and focus are critical; the lackadaisical contestant will not succeed.  Risk taking is sometimes rewarded, yet more often is not successful.  Conservative play may work initially, but becomes too predictable against a creative player. Lessons relating to “giving and taking,” bartering, and values are learned on the chessboard.  

Some years ago a Junior High School Principal in Oregon wrote a paper observing some of the educational values of chess.  He remarked:

Chess requires that individuals become actively involved in a mentally demanding competition; its effects are stimulating, wholesome, and healthy.
 Chess is a game of “quiet intensity.”
To the players, the game is like an unfolding drama.  Tension builds and a crisis is reached which decides whether or not there will be a happy ending.  The players live through the emotions of an exciting story.
Chess success is an intellectual achievement appropriate for schools.  It belongs in schools because:  it has international appeal; it requires a minimum of resources; and it demands that participants exercise their best powers of planning, memory, decision making, judgment, creativity, and concentration. 

Another teacher shared that chess teaches patience, foresight, long-range planning, and the ability to find alternative solutions.”  A special education teacher, Nadine Kee, said this about chess’s influence on her students:  “When students start playing chess, you can see the academic improvement immediately.  From the first day when a child learns how to move a pawn, you’ll see a difference in their attitude, their behavior, and their success in school.”  

Each of us has wrestled, is wrestling, or will wrestle with a decision.   Some are simple such as what to wear or where to eat for lunch.  Many are more complex: what college should I attend, should I take a new job or stay with my current one, when should I retire? A few are even more compelling: do I stay in this relationship, should I have this surgical procedure?

In coaching clients some will ask me about their decisions.  Although my job is not to provide advice or opinion I will “walk along side of them” as they voice their contemplations.  As they begin that “journey” I’ll sometimes ask, “if they play or played chess.”   If they do or did, then we’ll visualize transporting ourselves back to the chessboard to gain perspective.  The clarity can be enlightening.

How do you go about making a decision?

The Seed Sower


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