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October 8th, 2018

In a game of soccer or hockey, keeping tally is very important.  Relative to other sports, very few points are scored, so each point means a whole lot, whereas basketball games have the potential to finish with a difference of points in the dozens.


In sports, the matter of keeping tally is the end-all purpose of the game.  It is a means for ratcheting up the type of games we will see.  Keeping tally ensures – in theory – that we will see games of increasing skill on each side, and the hope and thinking behind this is that the game played will be of a higher caliber, a more rare variety, something special and unique.


The habit of keeping tally with numerical items often bleeds into places where it does damage.  The bill between friends at a restaurant, for instance.  This situation goes one of three ways.


Two friends might pay only for what each precisely had.


Or they might split the whole bill 50/50.


Or one of these friends will grab the bill and say, I got it this time.  With the tacit implication that the next time time is spent together, the favor will be returned.


These three possibilities show an increasing amount of leniency with regards to the details.  And from a business standpoint, this might seem unwise.  A penny saved is a penny earned, which means that a penny needlessly spent is double the loss it would be if saved.  But to look at friendships, or any close relationship as a kind of business transaction or business relationship is a mistake.    For the simple reason that there is an important factor at play beyond the pedantic ritual of keeping tally.  Cushy words like ‘love’ and ‘generosity’ aside, we must examine the reason why relationships beyond blood exist.  Friendships in particular are of greatest help to elucidate why keeping a strict tally is such bad practice.  Any friendship based solely on the specifics of what one has done for the other and the equivalence of those two set of acts is far more fragile than one that is not concerned with such.  Friendship that permits a much wider berth when balancing the checkbook of back scratches shows a much lager implicit value judgment that extends and includes things beyond the acts that can be easily monetized or numerically valued.  Such a circumstance between friends indicates a wider perspective.  Each person in such a friendship sees the other in a way that is greater than the sum of parts that can be seen ‘on paper’.    While this is obvious between good friends who are willing to give far more than they might expect in return, it would be a wise perspective to take on all human beings, friends and strangers alike.  The reason being that we cannot predict with absolute fidelity how someone will act or what they will become given a new circumstance.  While history is generally a good indication of how someone will act in the future, this is a general indication, and not an absolute one, which means while probabilities are high that someone won’t change, we cannot ignore the real possibility that a chance has the potential to lead to something new.  The flip side to remember is that no chance creates an  absolute probability: a probability of zero that something new will happen.  Generosity beyond the equal tally creates the opportunity for a non-zero probability that something new will happen. 


We might think of VC’s giving loads of capital to a small group of individuals with a new idea.  It might not pan out.  In fact, it probably won’t pan out, but the VC realizes that without a large initial act of generosity, some ideas have an absolute probability of zero when it comes to chances of materializing in reality.


Such is the perspective of loving friends with one another.  The potential absolute value of another person is frankly unknowable, and a real friend intuits this in practice.


What is that phrase about loving unconditionally?  The result of such unconditional tethers is never explicitly talked about.  For good reason: it is unpredictable, and unquantifiable. 


Many stories of karma elucidate this point: how a tiny gesture of kindness on one person’s part ends up saving their life when circumstances are flipped to a hyperbolic degree.


Whether it be karma or the strategy of Venture Capitalists or a bill unsplit between friends at a bar, the whole concept of keeping a tally usually undermines our long-term hopes for the way we function in the world, which is almost exclusively through our relationships to others.  That being said,


It’s best to throw away the scoreboard.  We must still be mindful of leeches that want to simply take advantage of us, but realizing such does take time, and may result in lost resources, but in the long run it’s best to give everyone the benefit of the doubt longer than feels comfortable.  Simply put, none of us know what kind of long-term investment we might be making.

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Podcast Ep. 176: Keeping Tally

Tinkered Thinking

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