Suits and Ladders

You ascend only to slide back down.

By Ken Shelton

Once upon a time I was told by credible authorities to stop playing field games in the dirt and start wearing a white shirt and suit and start climbing corporate ladders. I argued that I felt more comfortable in the field and didn’t like wearing suits and being around suits. But I was told that only by playing the Suit-and-Ladder game could I get to The Top, rung by rung. Continuing to argue my case, I mentioned that I excelled at field games; in fact, all that I had known was playing in the dirt, planting seeds for the future, and fertilizing The Crop, dung by dung.

Top Soil or Hard Toil?

            Yesterday my good neighbor Marc Steed saw me in my yard digging in the dirt. Earlier that day, he offered me his mulch for my garden. He said that he needed to get more top soil.        One week earlier another good neighbor, Donny Baum, offered me his top soil, which I took, as it saved me from more low toil.  

            These good neighbors reminded me of the time in 1967 when I was 20 years old, finishing my sophomore year at BYU as a pre-dental zoology major and hating every minute of it. I had two options: drop out and become an Army Ranger and enter the killing field of Vietnam; or stop out and wear a suit and enter the church mission field of Argentina, working mostly in small towns where nobody even owned a suit.  I opted for the mission field.

            After wearing a suit as a missionary for two years, I tried becoming a suit, working in white-collar classroom and office jobs. For 12 years, I tried climbing the institutional ladder of success. But, alas, at age 36, after excelling at work but getting fired from three office jobs, I officially stopped playing Suits and Ladders and starting playing Field of Dreams: If you publish it they will come.

Chutes and Ladders

            I always hated the game Chutes and Ladders.  You ascend near the top only to get a wrong roll of the dice and land on a chute and slide back down to the bottom and start over.  I wondered if Hasbro had some sadistic game designer who was trying to teach children of all ages that doing good deeds and climbing ladders to success might end in rapid, degrading descents.

Note:  The Hasbro board game Chutes and Ladders is for two to four players, suitable for kids as young as 3 years old. You don’t need to read or to know any strategic skills. This game of chance also teaches basic counting skills and lessons about behavior and its consequences. Land on a good behavior square and you move up the board faster; land on a bad one and you move back down. If you land on a square at the bottom of a ladder — a good deed — you travel up to the square at its top. If you land at the top of a chute — a naughty deed — you travel down to the square at the bottom. The winner is the first player to land on the 100 square by spinning an exact score. Chutes and Ladders is a simplified version of the English board game, Snakes and Ladders, a version of an ancient Indian religious game, Moksha Patam, that uses a die rather than a spinner and ladders to show the rewards of being virtuous and snakes to show the consequences of vices.

            In contrast, the Has-been boardroom game, Suits and Ladders, is for two or more players, not suitable for kids, as you need to know strategic moves to sabotage the career moves and companies of other players. Good deeds are not necessarily rewarded, nor naughty deeds and crimes punished as you ascend on ladders or descend in chutes.  The winner is the first player to spin all information, secure 100 million deeds at The Top, cash them in, and use the golden parachute to land safely. It is an American version of quasi-religious English-Indian game Snakes and Ladders that uses real snakes, financial COBRAs, to get rich in apparent virtue as others die in accused vice or bad roll of the dice.         

Suit Strategy Starts Early, Never Ends

            Ambitious young men and women start to climb the ladder of success long before their first job. Early in life, they face trials and tests of graduated skill at home and in school and hone an inborn inclination to succeed, to surpass others, and to weather setbacks and disappointments that are inevitable in their struggle to reach The Top.

            Some children, through no fault of their own, fall behind early in their race to the top. I read of one boy who missed the chance to attend a top-flight nursery in Greenwich, Connecticut because his parents did not come to the interview dressed properly (no suit). He had to settle for a public school. In Japan, having to attend a second-rate nursery is likely to doom the child to a second-rate elementary school, high school, college and career. Children who don’t see the importance of climbing the ladder of success must resort to sports fields or self-employed fields.

            In due time, ambitious suits may find themselves standing near the top rung of the ladder, gripping tightly, looking down to the ground and up to sky, or to a cloud that seems within reach if they continue to work long and hard. They stand up proudly on the rungs of their respective ladders, looking around, pleased with their progress. They have gone to good colleges, have good jobs, and receive awards and rewards. But every once in a while, when they stop to look down and up, they can’t tell if they are closer to The Top. When they look down they see, with some satisfaction, that others have fallen off their ladders and lie supine in the dirt on the ground; others are sitting perched on one of the lower rungs watching television. Still, their ladders seem to stretch farther and farther up. And when they see that some people are moving higher or faster on their ladders than they are, they are despondent.

            Of course, it’s all an optical or occupational illusion. I have known ambitious suits who seem to reach The Top of their ladder of success only to find it is misty up there. In the clouds, they can’t see anyone or anything else. If they manage to pop their heads through the top of the cloud and see that the ladder keeps going higher and higher into the next cloud, they feel sad, disappointed, disillusioned, and tired of always trying to be the best.

Moral: It’s better to toil hard in the dirt of your Field of Dreams than roil in the Top Soil of Suits, Snakes, Chutes and Ladders.

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