Whose Game Are You Playing?

5 May 2024

You and I, as children, were given a drug. Approval, appreciation, praise, success, acceptance, popularity - call it what you will, but it’s a drug that causes dependence on other people at the expense of our authentic desires.

“You become a robot. You want to see what kind of a robot existence human beings live? Listen to this. You’ve got the robot who comes here, and I say, ‘My you’re looking pretty!,’ and the robot goes right up. I press a button called ‘appreciation,’ and right up it goes. Then I press another button called ‘criticism’—flat on the earth. Total control. <…> “- Anthony de Mello

It’s a harsh assessment but a truthful one.


Various social mechanisms are installed in us early on and kept in place through social emotions like shame, embarrassment, guilt etc.

Most parents are complicit in this but we should have compassion as they were too raised to comply with society's software. The software is the only way to get many humans to cooperate. Can society function without it? Perhaps not.

We’re social beings, and exclusion from the group feels like a threat to survival. As children, dependent on parental love, we learn to conform to external expectations to feel safe and loved, sidelining our own desires. This persists into adulthood. People achieve socially sanctioned milestones, yet feel unfulfilled, feeling like life should be good, but something’s still missing. That’s because they ended up living someone else’s life. A life hooked on the approval of society standards to confirm they’re okay. Not finding gold at the end of the rainbow gets some people into self-development. Others repeat the same programme ad infinitum.

A side note to this topic: I hear people complain that society doesn’t do X or Y: doesn’t encourage personal growth, healthy development, financial freedom, independent thinking etc. No shit, Sherlock - of course it doesn’t. Society’s survival depends on you doing what it needs, not what you want to. This isn’t a conspiracy. You don’t shove a steak in front of a hungry hyena and then cry foul when it eats your lunch. If you want change, leave the poor society alone (including your parents) and work on yourself.

When we don’t figure out what authentic life means to us (let me contradict myself to say I’d argue this is close to impossible and authenticity is just another marketing term, but more on this another time), we die in instalments.

Another massive downside to living by society’s standards is that we become incapable of loving.

As a result of having taken this drug, you have lost your ability to love. You know why? Because you cannot see any human being anymore.

You’re so conscious of whether they accept you or they don’t, whether they approve of you or they don’t. You’re seeing them as a threat to your drug or as a support to your drug.

The politician frequently doesn’t see people at all; he sees votes. And, if you’re neither a threat nor a support to his getting votes, he doesn’t even notice you. The businessman sees big bucks; he doesn’t see people, he sees business deals. But, we’re no different if we’re under the effect of this drug… How can you love what you do not even see?” - Anthony de Mello


That’s why seeking wealth feels difficult and relatively few people do it. Because it’s going against the grain. In most societies, being rich is seen as bad, reflected in countless sayings and stereotypes about the corrupting nature of wealth. They’re essentially stories people tell themselves about why they can’t achieve financial success when in reality it’s the societal mechanism preventing them from doing so.

When someone (unconsciously) feels like they shouldn’t be wealthy because their tribe says so, they might not want others to succeed either, leading them to spread narratives that discourage pursuing wealth. Over time, these narratives become deeply ingrained, acting as yet another form of social control. Society doesn’t need to manipulate, peer pressure and societal expectations does.



I observe society both hate and love business people. We love a good rags-to-riches story as long as the person is perceived as likeable (i.e. Michael Jordan). But generally, nobody wants someone they know to get (much) richer than them because it raises a question of status. If two people start out in a similar social class and one becomes much (a relative term) richer, the other feels like they did something wrong. Rather, that something’s wrong with them. They both, after all, had similar circumstances so how come he didn’t achieve what his fellow class member did? Hard work is one of the multitude of possible answers, but the important thing is why the question arises in the first place. It’s because society, especially capitalist society, is built on competition through comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I love competition but I’m not a fan of comparison. Most of the time, comparison kills authenticity and thus progress.

If I compare myself to someone who made it, I might start feeling 💩 and thus begin accepting society’s narrative of ‘money is the root of all evil’



I admire business people because they’ve managed to act in their best interest regardless of the pre-installed social software (something I can’t do yet, hence the admiration). It’s why sociopaths (no experience of social emotions) do so well in business - societal manipulation carried out through social emotions doesn’t faze them.

Responsibility is proportional to freedom - the more responsibility, the more freedom. Essentially, the more you’re willing to challenge societal norms and accept both social and financial risks, the greater your potential rewards. This is why relatively few people venture into business—it’s tough to counteract societal pressures.

As Naval Ravikant points out:

Status is your place in the social hierarchy.” Society plays status games. They gain status by attacking people playing wealth-creation games.



What game are you playing?

Whose game are you playing?