A Desire For Structure: Thoughts From The Queens Gambit

I recently watched The Queens Gambit on Netflix. A inspiring and wonderful show I highly recommend. In it, the protagonist and a chess prodigy, Beth Harmon (who happens to be an orphan), is interviewed by a magazine columnist who asks, "Why do you love chess so much?"

Then proceeds to assume, "Do you imagine you saw the king as a father and the queen as a mother, one to attack and one to protect?" 

To which Beth responds. "They're just pieces."

"It was the board I noticed first." But then Beth says one of my favorite lines of the entire show.

"It's an entire world with just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it. I can dominate it. And it's predictable, so if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame." 

To an extent, isn't this what we're all seeking? The ability to understand the game and realize the patterns, principles, and rules to success. Then try to dominate them. Of course, this is the goal in every game, but also a reflection on life. 

Our challenge is, life is so extensive and complex. It's not as predictable or reliable as 64 squares. It is difficult to imagine understanding all the patterns and developing a consistent framework of principles that is consistently successful. Life is too abstract, and too overwhelming. This doesn't sit well with a biological being seeking meaningful existence. We extract a lot of meaning from progression and competency, two components that require something of structure and order. 

Spontaneity and chaos might be attractive, but deep down, we know nothing meaningful and lasting comes from it. They can be exciting in small doses, but structure provides long-term well-being. Christianity does this. It provides order to life, offering guidelines to achieve progression within the spiritual hierarchy. An organization like Alcoholics Anonymous does the same. It takes a chaotic struggle and provides twelve structured steps, using rules, order, and principles as an antidote to the chaos. Not at all the same, but cults succeed in this too. 

Not all structure is good

Order and structure are only so valuable in the context that there is something meaningful to progress toward. Without a significant end to the means, order can feel invasive and structure confining. Which is why an unfulfilling job may provide lots of structure but also feel like a prison.

The key is balance

Here's the formula I think we all, to an extent, desire: We need enough structure and order in life so as to see progression towards personally meaningful objectives, balanced by intervals of chaos and spontaneity to keep things exciting. 

I hold a personal opinion that at least one form of depression comes out of the imbalance between these variants. The average persons' life today, has inverted this formula. They are burdened by the structured routine of a job they don't deem meaningful and then they release that tension with chaotic unhealthy habits outside of work. Suppose this pattern makes someone vulnerable to negatively comparing their lives with others? Then add a strong dose of social media to the recipe. Depression, at least in my experience, seems to make a lot of sense under those circumstances. 

What Can You Do Now?

The release of this tension comes from implementing, by yourself or through external aid, a framework that captures the essence of the above formula. The bad news is life's patterns, principles, and rules are not as simple as a chessboard to provide the necessary constraints for meaningful progress. The good news is there are many activities in life that will satisfy the desire. It's just a matter of finding one that excites you enough to commit to its journey. 

Good luck!

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