Mah Jongg vs. Life


( This piece has circulated around via email and the such and landed on our desks. We wanted to share. The author is unknown to us and would love to give credit if someone knows who wrote it.)


In Mah Jongg, as in Life, we start with a set number of random tiles. They line up on the rack before us, like DNA sequences and chance circumstance. We begin to make sense of the randomness, to arrange bams together, or notice number sequences. We make sense of what we’ve been given to start with. We form our core “identity” and try to make sense of it.

There is in Mah Jongg, as in Life, an element of destiny or inevitability. Some might call it Fate. Some people are born with more “Jokers” —- more good fortune, if you will —- than others. Some people have an obvious lifepath, based on given talent or proclivity.

But in Mah Jongg, as in Life, we have free will. From the tiles before us we have a choice as to which “hand” to play, which “path” to take. There are often several possible directions open to us. The decisions we make early on affect the direction our hand will take. The skill we bring to the play once that path is chosen, affects our outcome as well. So Life, as in Mah Jongg, is a combination of chance, choice and skill.

The beauty of Mah Jongg and Life, is that even with the worst opening set of tiles, there are several directions open to us. But with practice and hard-won wisdom of many games played (read ‘years lived’ ) we get better at spotting the best choices to make, the most optimal paths to follow given what we have to work with. Even the tiles themselves, with their lovely imagery, speak of Life to me. The ‘winds’ of change, the ‘dragons’ we must slay, the ‘flowers’ we cling to, grace notes and moments of beauty; the circle of ‘dots’ of Life itself and the ‘cracks’ we sometimes trip on or fall into.

Like Life, Mah Jongg is never ‘fair.’ The random distribution of tiles favors one player over the other. Some are gifted from the very outset with clear patterns, the blessings of numerous jokers, making their game much easier, their chance of winning much higher. But again, as in Life, skill and judgement, patience and effort, can allow even the most mediocre of initial hands to prevail; just as with carelessness, lack of focus or poor decision-making, the best initial hands can fail.