Chutes and Ladders

In 1943, the Milton Bradley Company started selling the popular children’s board game “Chutes and Ladders.”  The game is a simple race based on sheer luck.  The outcomes of random dice rolls determine a player's progression up the board, complicated by ladders, which accelerate progress, and chutes, which set one back.  These “complications” have a much more dramatic effect on one’s chance of victory.

I’ve been considering lately, many ways that this game may be an appropriate allegory for life.  Of course, in life, we do not all start on the same square.  I’ve discussed this phenomenon in a previous piece.  Beyond that though, there are certainly times when “rolls of the dice” can mean progressing a bit more quickly or slowly toward our goals.  More noticeable are the larger events with more dramatic outcomes, much like the chutes and ladders in the board game.  These events, both good and bad, will occur and there is little that we may be able to do to avoid that truth.  What we can control, however, is how we react to these events.  This is true both when they occur to ourselves, and to others

A great deal of my work involves being rather stoic in the face of good or bad rolls of the dice.  After all, they are rolled every day and one might lose their mind if they reacted dramatically to every single outcome.  It can be a bit more difficult to shrug off the chutes and the ladders that we come across, but my advice is similar.  We must, to some degree, be able to be emotionally indifferent to what has occurred.  This way, we can focus on the most intelligent way to move forward from where we are now.

As a child, seeing an opponent hit a chute in the board game was always a cause for glee, since their setback increased my chances of winning.  Thankfully, this is not the case in life.  Victory is not a right reserved for only one player in this grandest game.  This is why we can show support to those we witness suffering one of life's misfortunes.   In life, it is best to avoid either being or engaging with those who practice a “crab mentality.”

The crab-bucket effect is a way of thinking best described by the phrase "if I can't have it, neither can you". The metaphor is derived from the behavior of crabs when they are trapped in a bucket.  A lone crab will easily climb out.  When you place it with other crabs, as one tries to escape, others will pull them back down to the group's collective peril.  Let's not be crabs.  The world has quite enough of these.

The opposite of a crab, who pulls others down life’s chutes, is someone who reaches the top of a bucket and then lowers a ladder for someone else.  This is an admirable act that our society has been underappreciating for quite some time.  We idolize a billionaire who builds his fortune on the backs of an army of underpaid workers, yet ignore the small businesswoman who makes personal sacrifices to ensure her employees’ families have health insurance.

Lowering a ladder doesn’t have to come at an economic cost.  Education can be a ladder to a better life.  An experienced professional can mentor a young coworker for free.  Generosity of time, energy, and attention is still generosity.  In an age when it is easy to see people pulling others down, or climbing to success only to pull the ladder up behind them…we should lower a ladder when we can. 

Related: What Anchor is Holding You Back?