Being a Good Human Being

Friday, September 3rd – Why is lying about your deck a negative EV for life itself? Patrick gets philosophical, discussing the whys and wheres of unethical behavior.

As I write this, it is less than 48 hours before the start of Pro Tour: Amsterdam.  I am going to head over to another apartment to test with some friends in a few hours, so I apologize in advance if this week’s article is a slightly more traditional size.

This week I would just like to write a little bit about Being a Good Human Being.

If you are talking with some friends and you don’t want to tell them what you are playing, saying “Top Secret Brew” is perfectly acceptable. As is shrugging instead of answering, or responding “You’ll see soon enough.” Now, obviously not everyone is going to accept these answers out the gate.  Often it will seem much, much easier to lie — or even to just cave and tell people when you don’t want to.  

Telling people or not is up to you.  I think all too often, people think it is a bigger deal than they imagine to not tell people about their deck.  First of all, you’re usually not talking about an actual Pro Tour… And even if you are, often people can offer insight and suggestions you might not have thought of.  

That said, you may not be in the market for insight, you may even be dealing with some local players who are the type to change a sideboard card or two at the last moment just to try to gain edge on you.  If that is the case (or any other reason you may fancy), remember, it’s your call whether you tell people about your deck or not.

I am not advocating either side of that decision. What I’m suggesting is merely that whatever you decide, lying to your friends is not Being A Good Human Being.  The very act of lying to someone about your deck choice automatically puts you in the position of “enemy” to them, as lying is a hostile act.

It is not hard to argue that lying is generally wrong — but that’s not what I am trying to argue here!  You may not have the same moral standards that I do. So instead, I am arguing that “not lying” is the play that has the highest EV, assuming your goal is to succeed in Magic.  We may or may not share moral compasses — but we do share a common goal, so a utilitarian argument should suffice.  In this case, even if you think lying on a regular basis is fine, even if you think it is wrong (but do it more than you’d like), you should still be able to see why lying to people about what deck you are playing is a negative EV when you look at the big picture.

By the way, when we talk about EV in this way, it is still short for Expected Value — but what so many overlook is that we aren’t talking about “money.” We are talking about value.  Money is often one form of value, but there are countless other forms.  What else is there in life but value?  

For instance, let’s say you have two choices: route A, which takes 60 minutes all the time, or route B, which takes 50 minutes 90% of the time and 90 minutes 10% of the time. It could be said that as long as you can afford to “Lose” on route B and all else being equal, you get more “Value” from route B (if your priority is saving time).

Whether it is money, time, cards, freedom, happiness, your significant other’s happiness, grades, or the number of people at the party, there are countless ways people measure “Value” — and it is up to each individual to decide for themselves what their priorities are.  

Also, to stave off another possible derailing of the forums, I am not suggesting calculating every move to gain the most possible “Value” from it, as many, many things in life are done “For Value,” rather than “For Effect.”

What I mean by this is that the slightly confusing differentiation in terms is actually significant.  When you do something to increase the chances of something happening that you want, it can be said to be done “For Effect.”  For example, if a guy wants to give flowers to a girl at the start of a date because they want to impress her, or a girl cooks dinner for a guy to try to demonstrate a merit of her as a girlfriend, it could be said that they are doing these things “For Effect.”  The action is done deliberately and with purpose, the goal being to further some agenda that the actor believes will lead to their own happiness (and very possibly the happiness of others as well).

Conversely, one may just get flowers for someone or cook someone dinner, just to do it.  When you are just doing it to do it, you could say you are doing it “For Value.”  It just makes life a little nicer, you know?  

It might be tempting to pretend that this is why you do most of what you do — but in this case, your words are not as important as your actions.  To try to “pretend” to do something for value is very much to do it for effect.  Neither is wrong — they both have their place — but they are two very different types of actions.

All too often, people will do something for effect, pretend it was for value, then get mad at the other party for not reacting the way they wanted.  If you buy a gift for someone and you really aren’t trying to accomplish anything other than to do something nice, why would you get mad if they don’t wear it/eat it/see it/do it?  You were trying to do something nice! Getting mad at them is very much the opposite of that intention.  

Another example is offering to give someone a ride or help someone in some way, but then just holding it against them when they accept.  If you’re really trying to be nice, why would you just be using that nice deed as leverage?

Perhaps you weren’t really being nice. Perhaps you were trying to get in good, suck up, be owed a favor, or some other possible effect.

What does this have to do with Magic?  Keep in mind that we’re still on a tangent of a tangent.  We will get back to EV in just a moment.  

This talk of doing things for effect versus doing things for value crosses into Magic all the time.  For instance, when you are nice to a random kid at the store without needing anything from them, well you could say you are just being nice for value.  That is just being a decent human being, you know?

All too often, I see a “cool” kid at a store being mean to one of the younger kids who isn’t in their clique.  They exclude them from practicing, from conversations, from deck discussions, from dinner.  Then, the moment they realize they only have seven people in the draft, they sweet talk the kid, paying the attention he’s been longing for.  Why?  Maybe the kid is in the middle of something else, wasn’t planning on drafting, or whatever, and they want him to stop what he is doing and draft.  

This is not inherently bad, at all — it is just a very different thing from doing it for value.

In this case, the effect the group wishes to generate is to get an eighth for the draft which would increase the happiness of the other seven players a fair bit.  They aren’t seeking to exploit the kid — in fact, they are “paying” attention and whatnot in an effort to further their own agenda, which may well prove mutually beneficial.  

All I am saying is that all too often, people will only be nice when it is for effect, not seeing the value in doing it for value.  

At the end of the day, you only have so much time (or other resources).  You can’t be everything to everybody — but there is no reason why you can’t just be a good human being to other people, even when you don’t want something from them.  

Some reading this will think that my thoughts are obvious one way — and some will think it is obvious in a totally opposite way.  Being a good human being to people when you want something from is obvious — but why do it when you don’t want anything?  

Because it is the Right Thing to do.  

You can’t make other people happy (even if you can do things that people decide make them happy), but you can be the kind of person you would like people to be.

You may not agree with my morals, you may have different priorities in life, but at the end of the day, we all want to accomplish things.  I suggest that if you want to be happy (which to me, is pretty much an indicator of how Right I am Doing It), then being the best human being you can will lead to people around you being happier… Which will tend to make you happier.  

Why be nice to that random kid when you aren’t getting anything out of it?  Because you were that random kid once.  You will be again.  Roles in life have a funny way of moving around.  You can’t control what people are going to do to you, but you can control what you do when the shoe is on other foot.

To close this tangent, I guess I am just saying that there is nothing wrong with doing things for effect.  Your agenda is important, and you should certainly do things to further it.  I am just suggesting that even if you care only for your agenda, you would be amazed at how useful it is to do things “For Value,” even when there is no discernible gain for you.  Don’t force your nice deeds on others; just be nice and good to people when no one is watching, when you don’t get any extra credit for it.

So. Back to EV (or my corruption of the term, I suppose).  

When you are making decisions, there are so many more factors than just how many dollars you are getting or saving today (or ever, for that matter).  Do you have any idea how many cheapskate Magic players I have met?  There is a strong correlation between younger players and being cheaper, using their perceived financial restrictions as an excuse.  

When you are in a group of six gamers eating dinner together, it is very enticing for immature people to put $8 in the pool when the check comes, when their bill was $7.85.  They rationalize it, as they are paying their bill, people probably won’t notice, and they don’t have enough money to leave a tip (at least, they don’t have enough money in the story they are telling themselves).

To them, they see leaving $9 or $10 as a waste of money.  Why throw away $2?  Well, all arguments about tipping aside (as obviously, different people have different philosophies about this) what these people don’t realize is that they are impacting the group as a whole.  When we sit as a group, if four people aren’t tipping, think about the impact on the other two.  It isn’t about convincing the server that you are good people — it’s about being a standup guy. It’s about surrounding yourself with people who are acting scummy and realizing that this isn’t you.  

You know it costs you to save that dollar?  The respect of some of your peers.  Four out of five people probably don’t care. But I suspect 80% of the people you care about are the type that would care.

Also, to be clear, we are totally setting aside the issue of people that throw $7 in for a $5.95 dish (neglecting their $1.95 drink and taxes, let alone a tip).  People that make that move are very much stealing from their “friends.”  Is it for a small amount?  Sure.  Do they think of it as stealing?  Probably not.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t scummy. At the end of the day (and at the end of your life), you are the one deciding Who You Are.

There are so many times where young people will be so focused on saving $2 that they will often lose sight of what it is that money is supposed to be doing for you anyway.  For instance, have you ever seen someone that refuses to stop at a gas station because gas is $0.17 more a gallon?  They want to save $2 when they fill their tank so bad that they drive an extra 30 minutes looking for a bargain — or worse, run out of gas looking.  Can you imagine?  Even if they run out of gas one time in forty, how can that be worth it to save $2?  This is not even counting the waste of time looking for something better.  

Time and money are convertible.  Everyone has a different exchange rate, no question — but I find that a common mistake many young people make is not valuing their time when making economic decisions.  

And to go a step further, many people don’t value their friends’ time.

For instance, let’s say one player doesn’t want to eat at a restaurant because it is $20 a dish, and they have decided that they want to pay $15 or less.  It is one thing to let people know your budget. But there comes a point if you no-sir three restaurants in a row in your quest to save $5 that ends up costing the six of you forty-five minute apiece — which seems a lot longer if people are hungry.  

Now, not everyone can afford $20 dinners — nor are you expected to! I’m just saying that if you’re going to do an economic breakdown of a situation, it can be useful to figure out the true EV by looking not just at money, but time and happiness.

What do you think money is for? It is a resource that you can use to further your own agenda.  It is supposed to help you do things that will help make experiences that make you happy — whether they are lunch, college, clothes, a movie, flowers, vacations, health care, security, or anything else.

All you start with is time… And you get a finite amount of that.  

The game is to have experiences.  Early on, you likely often trade time for money, using the money to help set up the experiences you want.  As the game continues, you probably start to try to figure out how to trade money for more time (a car for instance).  One doesn’t want Green mana just to have more of it, nor is drawing ten cards worth anything if the cards do nothing.  

Magic involves a lot of resource management — but at the end of the day, every mana in your pool, every card you draw, they are just means to an end.  That is money.  That is time.

Why is it terrible to lie to acquaintances about your deck?  How much edge are you gaining?  Even if it is non-negligible, at the end of the day, you are still making a statement about yourself that you are a person that lies to acquaintances to try to gain a tiny edge.  Maybe that’s okay to you — but then where do you draw the line?  Why not cheat a little to gain an edge?

Some may ask: what about in-game bluffing?  When you are in a competition like Magic, you’re talking about a competitive venture with a set of rules.  The rules are the rules, and they help spell out where the lines should be.  When you are talking with people about your deck the night before, you are presumably in a cooperative venture.  In competition, one could say it isn’t lying — like saying Coke is the best when you work for Coke, but secretly prefer Mountain Dew.  “Best” is such a subjective word, as are those said in Magic games about whether you have a Giant Growth or not (or if you are the Werewolf or not…).

When you are cooperating, however, I would hope that you would be able to confide in a friend that really, you do prefer Mountain Dew to Coke.  

Besides, regardless of the edge you may (or may not!) be getting, if you are not being a good human being, there is a cost.  People come to realize what it is you are saying about yourself and Who You Are.  Whether it is getting a shady reputation, being someone that no one wants to trade with, not getting invited to the party, not getting an award, being shunned by your peers, or whatever, there are countless invisible costs.

Conversely, if you do what you think is right, you very well may be attacked, ridiculed, or hated on — but there is a difference.  If you believe in what you are doing and are being a good person, even when it isn’t easy, it all comes out in the wash.  If you are a man or woman of integrity, you will weather the controversial storms.  If you are a good human being in your eyes, then you need not fret when people hate you or on you.  You have to realize: they’re just confused.  If you are being a good human being, they may be confused about Who You Are.  They may be confused about Who They Are.  They may be confused about what good is.

In time, they will likely come to respect you, however if they don’t, they aren’t who you want to be surrounding yourself with anyway, as they are not ready to be at your level.  So often people will try to make people like them, not realizing that if you are a good human being, people will like them naturally.  

Making people do anything is generally a very forceful way to do anything.  You can’t make people love you.  Why worry about those that hate on you?  You should be thankful!  That means you are doing something of consequence!  No one has ever done anything that mattered without some people hating them.

This isn’t to say that you should make people hate you, but rather just be a good human being as you see fit and fret not over the haters.  That is part of life.  You need that to make the experience of being You mean what it does.  Besides, as my man Chamillionaire would say, “If you were a hater and they had it like you, you would probably hate on them to!”  Instead of worrying about the people that bash every good thing they see, just do you.  Be the best human being you know how to be.

“Be excellent to each other.”  -Bill, of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”

Be nice to people?  That is the point of this article?  That we should be nice to people?

No, it is not my place to say what you should or shouldn’t do.  I am just trying to help you win more at Magic.  Taking these words to heart will help you win more at Magic.  Between better networking, more opportunities, and a better mindset, the statement about Who You Are in The Universe is intertwined with Magic.

“Everything is Everything.”  -One of the Seven Wisest Statements You’ll Ever Hear, Despite Being Apparently Tautological

Okay, thanks for kicking it with me today.  I got some Mindculpting to do.  Wish me luck!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”