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Ladders and snakes

Nov 27,2017 - Last updated at Nov 27,2017

Those who spend their childhood in Amman learnt beautiful lessons. There are no long flat distances. The 1950s Amman was an athlete-breeding city. Built on seven hills, one had to walk up and down all the time.

To make life easier for pedestrians, one had to climb long steps to go from Al Masarweh Quarter to downtown. Some of the solid stone stairways would add up to more than 200 steps.

Going to and coming back from school on foot even during rainy or snowy winter days was a normal occurrence. I did it with my four brothers with ease. 

My mom would send me from the Second Circle area to the downtown because she needed one household article. It would take me only 12 minutes to run downtown and come back.

We learned in Amman that stairs and steps were everywhere you lived and moved. So the children of this city learned that for every time they climb down with ease, they would have an equal distance to climb up with toil and some suffering. This asymmetry was just and an integral part of our lives.

When we graduated from college and got employed, we found that the game of life had changed. Life as we came to know it was not ruled by a set of rules which applied to all. Life was more like the board game of ladders and snakes.

All players start from point zero. They throw the die and the number they get decides their movement. It can put them at the bottom of a ladder which would propel them up or hit a snake’s head and slide down. 

At times, one plays the game thinking that he/she is about to reaching the target end, very close to winning, but the number on the die takes one to a square closer to the beginning.

Playing that game used to turn us practically into nervous wrecks, yet, it was deeply enjoyable. The rules applied equally to all players, but luck was the difference between winners and losers.

As we progressed in life and started competing, we began to discover that life was a game of chess. It was more complex and its rules opened an unlimited number of alternatives.

Some of us played the game well and thought that mastery was the guarantee to secure results.

This could be the “Luzhin syndrome”: thinking that life is like a game of chess, just like the hero in Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel “The Defence” does. It only takes one on a delusional trip through life to make one lose everything unless he makes the right choices.

Then, as we succeeded, we began to learn that life is not fair. An academically proficient person may lose to a dumb-witted person because the latter enjoys higher social intelligence.

Unfortunately, social intelligence can become an inferior person’s bag of tricks to climb up the ladder of success. Actually it helps the better persons take the “snake ride” through bigotry, cheating and hypocrisy.

By the time we think we have found the truth, we are retired and too old to benefit from it. A contented person is the one who does his best and counts his blessings.



The writer is a former Royal Court chief, deputy prime minister and member of Senate. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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