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What Game Will I Play?

I recently spent a few days at a lovely retreat center on Lake George in upstate New York. Rick Tamlyn’s Bigger Game Expo was what brought me to that beautiful place. As I sit reflecting on the many incredible stories from incredible people who are out in the world “changing the game”, I thought of a story I wanted to share with you.

This story comes from a book called “Love Beyond Reason” by John Ortberg, and it goes like this…

“This is a story about a fourth grade class where the teacher introduced a game called “balloon stomp”. A balloon was tied to every child’s leg, and the object of the game was to pop everybody else’s balloon while protecting your own. The last person with an intact balloon wins.

Balloon stomp is a zero-sum game. If I win you lose. Anyone else’s success diminishes my chances. I must regard everyone else as someone to be overcome, someone to be rooted against.

Balloon stomp is a Darwinian contest- the survival of the fittest- and since ten-year-olds are Darwinian people, they entered into the spirit vigorously. Balloons were relentlessly targeted and destroyed. Some children hung shyly on the sidelines, but their balloons were doomed just the same. The battle was over in a matter of seconds. Only one balloon was still inflated, and of course, its owner was the most disliked kid in the room. It’s hard to really win at balloon stomp.

Then, a second class was brought into the room to play the same game, only this time it was a class of mentally handicapped children. They too were given a balloon; they were given the same instructions, the same signal began the game.

This time though the game proceeded differently. The instructions were given too quickly to be grasped by these children. In all the confusion the one idea that sank in were the balloons were supposed to be popped. But instead of fighting each other off, these children got the idea that they were supposed to help one another pop the balloons. So they formed some kind of balloon stomp co-op.

One little girl knelt down and held her balloon in place, like the holder for a field-goal kicker, while a little boy stomped it flat. Then he knelt down and held his balloon still for her to stomp. On and on it went, all the children helping one another in the Great Stomp. And when the last balloon was popped, everybody cheered. Everybody won.”


Imagine how different each experience described is, one from another. What might the kids in the first class have experienced at the end of the game? Defeat, disappointment? Possibly self-criticism? What about the kids in the second class?

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you ever had an experience of everyone winning together? What was it like? How did you feel about yourself and others?
  2. How will you choose to play your game today?
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De Yarrison

De is a certified professional Coach, Teambuilder and Facilitator of positive change. She is an adventurer in the world of relationships, blazing new trails of positive expression, resulting in happier leaders, employees, workplaces (and families).
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