Monday, March 19, 2007

Unconditional Giving

When I'm at my worst, as a parent, I see the game as zero-sum.

Instead of seeing giving and loving as eternal springs that increase their output as you increase your giving, the only neon sign flashing in my face is "NO VACANCY." I start to see the limits of my energy and compasion, pieces of the pie that I choose to give away, but sometimes keep to myself, relishing their intense flavor.

In economics there is a metaphor for what are called "Commons Problems" called the Tragedy of the Commons. Imagine for example, a small herding society that shares a few acres of land on which to graze their sheep. They've figured out how long each herder can allow their sheep to graze without "eating up the seed corn" so to speak or without over-grazing to the point where the grass/corn won't grow back.

The problem? Every individual has an incentive to graze a little more. Make their sheep fatter, but not enough more to be noticably to the entire group. Sure, if one person over-grazes, the pasteur will probably remain intact. If EVERYONE over-grazes, the common land will certainly be ruined.

Hence the commons problems.

I sometimes feel over-grazed.

BioMom and I are different that way. In part, I think it is because she spends less overall time with the youngsters. In part, I think it is because she is a bit more extroverted than am I, doesn't need/want as much alone/rejuvination time.

When I don't get enough time to myself, everything begins to look like a request. It's like all I have is a hammer and so I can only see nails.

The other day we were at Grandma and Grandpa's welcoming them home from a recent adventure. We were heading out to lunch and Seven had requested to ride with them. On her way out of the car, however, she hesitated. She reached back in and found some strange insignificant item -- the kind that finds itself in the backseat of my car, snuggled between the two car seats. I suppose it was some short string-like item, a part of a whole that no longer existed in our world. She told me that it was her pet. Her REAL pet. Her pet that needed caring to.

Of course, it was all make believe. She's been on a pet kick lately. Not that she wants to lend a hand in caring for our three cats, mind you. But various inantimate objects in our house have been identified as "real" pets as of late.

She turned to me as she was leaving and said something that made me realize that she was asking me to take care of this newly identified and now, apparently, highly needy, family addition. ". . . [I hadn't been listening prior to this] and he needs water twice per day, and here's his treats. . . and don't forget to take him on a walk!"

At that moment, so depleted was I, I turned to her and said: "Why don't you take him along with you? I just don't think I'm up for taking care of him today."

Even make-believe seed corn gets overgrazed. Aristotle said it best: "That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it."

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