Jerry Martin: Unity through Sudoku | TheUnion.com

Jerry Martin: Unity through Sudoku

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Jerry Martin

Humans have created competitions such as sports and games that pit us against each other, either violently, as in boxing or wrestling or karate, or nonviolently, as in chess, tennis, gin rummy and baseball.

All competition impels us to improve our skills, which is good, resulting in progress in many fields of human endeavor. And team competitions encourage us to cooperate and communicate so that every individual's efforts contribute to the improvement of the group's performance. Everyone tries harder when keeping score, whether individually or on teams.

But sometimes there's serious competition between humans and a non-human opponent, such as fire, flood, famine or earthquake. This brings out the best in humans, who connect out of mutual necessity, unified in everyone's best interest to oppose the oppressive natural disaster.

We have found, over many centuries and thousands of threats, that ignoring our differences while combining our efforts always satisfies our interests, which usually involve our survival. All political differences, religious disparities, racial bias, cultural preferences and personal disputes are temporarily buried while our unified defenses are coordinated. Most wise, civilized adults have figured we just can't go it alone against powerful natural forces of destruction.

Bringing small teams of people together in a common goal can temporarily remove the “problem” that separated them

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Maybe that's an unintended benefit of destructive natural disasters. At least they cause us to connect in ways that make us humans the most effective and efficient, learning while we do so. Also, these stressful experiences teach us the commonality of humanity. For survival, we all need the same things. The better angels of our human capacity rise during these events.

But do we need to wait for these natural disasters to strike before we learn constructive collaboration? Can we simulate disastrous conditions without the dangers, providing opportunities to practice cooperation and constructive functioning, overcoming barriers that separate us when nothing threatens us collectively? Yes we have such a simulator, and it is available to everyone, including both genders of all ages and languages.

It's called Team Sudoku. Three or four humans join forces to solve a puzzle, which is the opponent. This small team of humans cooperates under safe (even pleasant) conditions. Either they succeed and complete the puzzle successfully, or they make a mistake, which leads to other mistakes, and the puzzle wins. And unlike dice and card games, where luck is a major player, the results of any team vs. puzzle contest is determined, 100 percent, by the humans' mental acuity. The humans lose together or they win together. And nobody dies or loses their house.

This is excellent training for children, who should learn cooperation early. The structure of Team Sudoku is perfect for simulating a need for unified action. It helps that kids enjoy solving Sudoku puzzles alone, boys and girls of equal ability, so doing so on small teams is fun and bonding. Developing new friendships is also healthy, in a context that encourages unity without real danger. It's wonderful practice for kids.

Traditionally, when families were strong and permanent, children were taught interpersonal intelligence, mostly among family members. Two or three generations living under one roof was common, as were large families with many children. But many family structures are no longer dependable, divorce is common now, as are single parent families. Children often must develop communication and how to personally connect elsewhere. Today's ubiquitous social media isn't helping teach personal connectedness, either. Today's children often need structured, face-to-face opportunities outside a family context, chances for friendship other than with siblings. Learning belonging is critical for healthy psychological development.

Bringing small teams of people together in a common goal can temporarily remove the "problem" that separated them. It can make the "problem" smaller, less important, even solvable. Enemies can become friends around a Sudoku puzzle, as both realize their commonality and the advantages of peace. Also, two generations working together, teaching each other, can be an opportunity for long term bonding to form. Many children learn Sudoku from grandparents, or vice versa. How many activities do we have that a 7 year old can enjoy with a 70 year old?

In addition, many seniors, restrained in their physical activities, find Team Sudoku ideal for getting together and forming new friendships. Solving these puzzles brings an intrinsic reward enjoyed by all. And scientists in the field of neurobiology are joined in recognizing the benefits of mental exercises that postpone or prevent Alzheimer's and dementia. "Use it or lose it" seems to apply to our brains, as with our bodies.

Jerry Martin lives in Grass Valley.

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