Smaller Things

Everything is made of smaller things.

The butterfly effect refers to the idea that one small action can have many unexpected, large consequences. The name stems from the metaphor of butterfly that flaps its wings and, indirectly, causes a tornado halfway across the world.

It’s tempting to call the butterfly the cause of the tornado. But, more often, the tornado is simply the manifestation of the invisible winds of change. Behind every butterfly stirs uncountable other forces, previously unseen, caught only in glimpses.

Judging a Magic event is, from one perspective, all about control. Some of our most important responsibilities are deciding what is allowed and what is forbidden, and organizing what gets done when by whom. This doesn’t mean lording over players and other judges with a heavy hand — far from it. Those who’ve worked under, alongside, or above me know that I strive to help my team members grow at every event, rather than just giving commands. But, pragmatically, there must be a final authority to resolve disputes. There must be someone who is in charge. In some ways, this makes everything simpler. Whenever I put on my judge shirt, it’s clear who is in control. Even more importantly, I can clearly understand how I can impact the event in a positive way.

In the real world, it’s not so simple.

In the real world, I cannot control the wind.

I identify more with the butterfly. What I say or do or write in one place may have some effect, somewhere else. But it’s impossible to predict what that effect may be, or who will be impacted.

All I can say for sure is that there are numerous factors outside my control. Some of these forces, these winds, are bigger than me, unknowable and vast. Others are so small that, while they are impactful in aggregate, even perceiving them is a challenge.

I used to find this uncomfortable to think about, but judging has actually helped me come to terms with it. A big part of the reason is recognizing that even the most meticulously-planned event can be unexpectedly hit by a tornado of forces outside our control.

As human beings, we react poorly when we lose control of a situation. It doesn’t matter how it happens. Maybe we learn that we do not, in fact, have the authority we expected or thought we had. Maybe someone conclusively demonstrates that we are not in control of a situation — they are. Maybe there’s no single reason for it at all.

Whatever the cause, in these situations, our natural instinct is to respond, to react somehow. But in these situations, “What will I do?” is a better question than “How will I respond?” Instead of reacting out-of-hand, we should ask ourselves how we can contribute to the situation.

To contribute rather than react, take a step back and disassociate from the tornado, the instigating event. Ask yourself, honestly, what is and isn’t within your scope of influence. Reflect on your immediate priorities and your long-term goals. Then sketch out how you plan on proceeding.

While this advice works both outside events and within them, I think I can make it clearest by using examples from tournaments. On the day of an event, for instance, you can’t control how much product or space your TO has — but you can remain upbeat and greet players with a smile anyway. When walking up to a table, you can’t control whether or not a player is tilted — but you can empathize with their situation and try to improve it.

Over the past week and a half, many of us have been faced with situations where we feel like we have lost control. To be sure, some of us have been impacted far more than others, and I don’t mean to imply that everyone has reacted in the same (or even remotely similar) ways. Even so, from the conversations I’ve had and the discussions I’ve observed, I believe that this loss of control underlies much of the emotional impact of the past ten days.

Despite these emotional weights, I’ve seen many fantastic examples of judges contributing rather than reacting. One person I want to highlight specifically is Joe Hughto, who volunteered a ton of his own time to chat with judges in the Northeast and make sure everyone had someone they could talk to if they needed. He also wrote several honest, uplifting posts for our regional group to keep everyone informed and aware. Even though Joe couldn’t impact the immediate situation, he recognized he had the ability to provide a calming voice for judges throughout our region, and capitalized on that to contribute the best way he could.

Ultimately, none of us can control the wind. All of us are butterflies in our own way. What we can control is where, when, and how we choose to fly.

One thought on “Smaller Things

  1. In the last couple years, I’ve really come around to the way of approaching things that you’re describing here. I’m now at the point where I wholeheartedly support this.

    In the example for which you highlighted me, I decided early on that it didn’t actually matter how I felt about the situation. For me, my thoughts and feelings about what was going on didn’t have any real impact. There wasn’t much I could do to change anything. I did, however, have complete control over what actions I could take in order to help moving things forward.

    I always kept in mind that I should strive to be reasonable and I should try my best to have productive ends in minds for any conversations that I had. I think that’s almost always the best way to go when you have situations outside of your control like this.

    I could disagree with and be vocal about the decisions that were made here (by multiple different parties), but what does that serve? Instead, I can choose to put on a good face and try to be a force working toward cohesion and forward motion which is really one of the driving forces behind the entire judge program.

Comments are closed.