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Marcus Throneburg

Let them eat cake

The distribution of cake can be tricky business. It takes some pretty serious math to take a look at a crowd and a cake and figure out the appropriate cutting grid to ensure each person gets an equal portion. No doubt there is someone somewhere who has lost a friend because they miscalculated. In fact, there should probably be a cheat sheet carried by mothers and grandmothers which has the math already figured, like a football coach and his two-point conversion card. 

While the math of cake distribution may at times be complicated, the physics of it are quite simple. If Charlie eats a piece of cake, that piece is no longer available for his friend Tommy. It’s a zero sum game, where the deliciousness experienced by one person is directly tied to the empty stomach experienced by the other.   

I received a book this Christmas called “Metaphor.” It is a cleverly-titled book about metaphors. In one of the early chapters, the authors discuss the trend of using battle language when referring to debates or arguments. For example, we hear phrases like, “he attacked her point of view,” or “her criticism was right on target,” and of course, “they won the debate.” There is something wrong with our terminology here. I hope to one day see two people discuss an issue in such a way that one of the participants actually comes around to the other’s way of thinking, not because there was a winner or a loser, but because truth was found where it had not been before. 

There are, of course, places for competition, and winners and losers. Professional sporting events should end with someone winning. I’m looking at you, soccer. And you wonder why you aren’t more popular here. Game shows need a winner. Elections need a winner. If they didn’t, who would we blame for everything? (Just kidding there ... please hold the angry emails!) 

The spirit of competition is healthy in a lot of ways, but if it is not contained and applied in appropriate areas it can distort and dismantle things it was never meant to touch. For example, I enjoy golfing. I do not, however, enjoy golfing with someone who can hit their tee shot farther than me. Apparently, I am a child. If I cannot simply find joy in doing something I like and also appreciate the accomplishments of others, than I need to be cured of something that is quite serious. If, as a parent, you have ever heard the news of a baby’s first steps and sneered because your own child is not yet walking yet, then you need to be healed with me. 

Not everything is like cake. The talents and achievements of one person do not necessarily come at the expense of another. The success of a neighbor does not belittle the achievements in your own home.   

I believe we make a choice, and I have sometimes made the wrong one. We can ride a tide that lifts all boats and find joy in the success and achievements of others as if they were our own, or we can meticulously calculate who got to eat cake and what size their piece was.

In 2013 I am committed to riding the tide. Some may prefer to play the game of compete and compare. I say ... let them eat cake.

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