The Politics of Ping Pong

by Bernie DeKoven on July 16, 2010

(from The Well-Played Game – pp 8-9)

How about another game of Ping-Pong?

Look, I’ve got an idea. Let’s not play for score this time. Let’s just volley. Maybe then we’ll be able to see more clearly when we are playing well together. Maybe then we’ll be less distracted. No, I’m not saying that playing for score is bad or anything. I’m simply admitting that, based on our last experience,  it isn’t very helpful.

And I’ve got another idea. Since you’re a better player than I am, suppose you play to my backhand more. I’m better with my backhand,  see, and if it’s all right with you, I think it’ll help us get to a Well-Played game together.  Maybe you should keep playing with your wrong hand, too.

Yeah, this feels good. It’s becoming like a meditation, just volleying back and forth like this, just trying to keep the ball on the table. The game has really changed,  though, hasn’t it? I mean, we’re not trying to make each other miss anymore. When my shot hit the end of the table just then,  and you missed it, I was disappointed more than anything else. I wanted us to be able to keep the ball in play, that’s all.

You aren’t getting bored, are you? I admit that I’m not giving you very much of a challenge. I mean, we’re playing so gently with each other. Whoops! I didn’t expect that. It seemed that the ball had lost its equilibrium a little. I had to play back to get it on the table again. It felt good, though.

Yes, this is starting to feel right—like we’re really playing together. Maybe if I played a little farther back…Well, I guess that was a little too far. From here, maybe. Yeah, that feels good.

Did you see that shot? I really didn’t expect I’d be able to get it back on the table at all.

You can feel it too,  can’t you? Even though you’re so much better at the game than I am, you can feel how we’re beginning to play this game well between  us, can’t you?

Nice shot! I really didn’t think we’d be able to save that one. I said “we” didn’t I? Yes,  I’m beginning to feel how both of us are making this game happen. I mean,  it was always true that we made the game happen together.  I couldn’t be playing Ping-Pong with you if you weren’t playing with me. But now I can really feel how we’re playing together.

Do you realize that we haven’t dropped the ball for quite awhile? We seem to be getting the feel of it. How long has it been? You’re kidding! We’ve been doing this for an hour already?  We’ve kept it going all that time?

This is amazing! I can feel the equilibrium shift and restore itself.  I can’t tell which one of us making it happen. But I feel so sensitive—I can sense the game,  I can sense you,  I can sense the way we’re playing it together.  And I love it.  I love being this way. I love doing this thing, playing this game with you.

You feel it too, don’t you? No, I don’t need to ask. I can tell. I see it in your eyes, in the easy way you’re holding your paddle. I can see you smile at the same thing.

Whenever  there’s a moment of excellence,  whenever  one of us has to stretch beyond in order to keep the game going, we can both tell it happens.  And each time it happens, that particular experience of excellence,  it seems to happen a little more obviously. We seem to be getting better at playing well together. We can feel it now. We know what it is. It’s no longer an idea,  it’s what we’re actually doing with each other. And because we know what it is so intimately, we seem to be able to stay there longer.

Yes, we’ve found it. We are playing well together. The game itself has become Well-Played.


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