David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

How Do You Win at Chicken?

Not, how do you win a chicken? I can only assume that there are any number of country fairs across our great nation that allow you to put down your cotton candy, pick up a baseball, and win a chicken. Referenced here is the “game” of chicken involving two cars, two drivers, and one deserted (hopefully) stretch of highway.

The participants–leather clad teenagers with a predilection for all things mechanical and a thriving distrust for adults–speed toward one another in their hotrods. As the speed of both cars approaches 80 miles per hour, the distance between them decreases at the rate of 23 feet every tenth of a second. Whichever driver turns away first, loses–is the “chicken.”

What is the winning strategy for this–admittedly stupid, but all too real–game?

Obviously, staying out of either car would be your best bet. Being elsewhere, almost anywhere elsewhere, is highly recommended. But assuming, for the sake of this blog post, that you are the driver of a car hurtling down a road at warp speed, what is your best strategy? How do you win? How do you convince the other driver to turn off before you smack into one another at a combined velocity of 160 miles per hours and become scattered body parts?

Answer next week. (Unless a fellow gentle reader has been kind enough to post it below.)

If I’m not mistaken, it was Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who first posed this situation and its solution back in the cold war days. But my column this week is about when it’s wrong to be right, not about geo-political brinksmanship.

First some examples of when I am right: As an independent college admissions counselor with 30 years of experience, I know when a student will be happier at a big state university as opposed to a private liberal arts college. As a safe driver, I am always in the right. All the rest of the drivers in Miami are either psychopaths or visually challenged.* The question is how to convey my “rightness” to those who would benefit from my insight. How do I communicate to a 17 year-old with learning differences and modest academic motivation that she will be lost and overwhelmed at a mega-versity with 400 students in freshman biology? And how do I convince all those other drivers that I had the right of way? The two situations may have more in common than it would seem at first. My being right may not be the most important part of the conversation.

Here’s where it’s important to be right: Building jet engines.

Here’s where it’s important to let it go: Divorce proceedings. Raising kids. College counseling. Driving.

Here’s my rule of thumb about being right. If it has a thumb, it’s not so important to be right. Machines don’t have thumbs. They have to be built to exact specifications with prescribed limitations of error. Kids do have thumbs. Let them win an argument once in a while.

Remember that great ad for safe driving from years ago? The narrator walks through the wreckage of a brutal car accident–shards of glass, twisted medal. He says, “This guy was right.” He kicks a piece of a shattered bumper then continues, “Dead right.”

Kids who get yelled at all the time–“Do your homework;” “Change your clothes;” “Your friends are idiots”–won’t remember the specifics, only that they are always in the wrong. Your disapproval will be remembered more than your guidance.

The paradigm for raising kids is not a game of chicken.

* For the chronically irony impaired, let me state explicitly that I am kidding about the above examples.



Copyright © David Altshuler 1980 – 2022    |    Miami, FL • Charlotte, NC     |    (305) 978-8917    |    [email protected]