art work by John Ceprano
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The story in the song The Gambler – most famously sung by American country music singer Kenny Rogers – is about two people on a train “bound for nowhere”. One of the people is a gambler who perceives the other person he meets is down on his luck (“out of aces”). The gambler offers up advice if the person will give him his last swallow of whiskey. (The Wikipedia description of this encounter refers to the male gender but presumably it need not be.)

After the gambler takes the drink he gives this advice:

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away, know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table,
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”

The gambler then mentions that the “secret to survivin’ is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep”.

According to Wikipedia, some believe the song is not simply useful advice and tips on gambling, but in fact a wider “metaphor” for life itself, with the “cards” which the gambler plays signifying the choices we make in our lives. However, there is no line in the song which proves this theory.

The Gambler is a catchy song and even as we “speak” I can’t help but hum the tune. And it seems to me the gambler’s advice is indeed a metaphor applicable to other of life’s circumstances, including conflict. That is, whether before, during or after conflict, we have choices about how to manage the situation. We can hold onto our positions; we can concede to the other; we can collaborate or compromise; we can walk away with our heads held high; we can walk away in anger; we can resolve things amicably; or we can let things fester. The list of our choices is endless, and the following questions are good ones to consider if you are wondering what to do about a specific dispute.

  • What is the dispute about?
  • What is your position that you are holding onto on how you want things resolved?
  • What makes that position particularly important to hold onto?
  • If you hold onto your position, what are the possible outcomes?
  • What other options for resolution might there be that may be acceptable to you?
  • How might those options – referred to in the previous question – work for the other person?
  • If you were to “fold ‘em” in this conflict, what does that mean to you?
  • In what ways may folding your position actually be a positive choice? How would you know when to “fold ‘em” to make it positive?
  • How is “folding ‘em” a negative choice?
  • What choices might work for both of you? If you don’t want a mutually acceptable choice how will you proceed?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

(Popular- from the archives)

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