The Ruark Kids

Unintended consequences and the look-ahead


I’m looking forward to the time when my daughters clobber me at chess. I’ve never been very good at it. Even the most remedial difficulties settings on computer programs can clean my clock. For one, with my bad memory I’ve never been able to or inclined to study and learn the various gambits and games that form a strategic foundation. Equally as important, though, I’ve not been capable of looking several moves ahead and exploring enough options to know what situations I’ll be able to take advantage of or, worse, what situations will take advantage of me. I tend to follow greedy heuristics, which is to say I take moves that are obviously beneficial in the short term without much regard for what might happen in later moves. The result is often a series of unintended consequences, usually something that involves many more of my pieces than my opponent’s pieces hitting the proverbial showers. Then surely the king is to follow them soon. This is exactly the wrong strategy one should have to win at chess.

Unfortunately, while we don’t use thirty-two black and white pieces and a board, I find myself playing chess with Siena already, and I’m even now failing to look ahead enough to avoid unintended consequences.

Siena likes to wake up early. Sometimes I think it’s the fan in the bathoom when I go in to shower, maybe the cats hollering for breakfast, the dog whining to go out. But recently she’s been waking up at 6 AM or earlier without any of those events to trigger her. I’m concluding that she inherited my sleep genes, and by 6 AM she’s had enough and is ready to go. The problem is she’s been coming into our room to climb into bed or ask someone to come to her room or go get her breakfast or whatever. This has not, as you can imagine, made us particularly happy. (We don’t get to go to bed at 8 PM like she does, and we prize our sleep more too.)

So recently we’ve been trying to explain to Siena that when she gets up, she can go use the bathroom without our help, she can turn on her lights without our help, and she can stay in her room and read or play with toys until we come to get her. We also told her that she needs to stop coming into our room and waking us up. In theory so far so good. Except that it hasn’t been working particularly well.

Case in point: This morning. Around 6 AM, just after Mama’s alarm went off (which *is* pretty loud, so maybe that’s waking her up), we hear the stomp stomp stomp that signals that she’s up and about. Maybe she stomps to the bathroom, maybe not, I can’t remember. In any event, there’s a lot of stomping. Door closing sounds. Good enough, as long as she’s not coming into our room and waking us up.

Then we hear a high-pitched >cough cough<. That’s not Siena’s cough. Mama says, “Don’t tell me Thalia’s up too.” We go to look in on her, and lo and behold, instead of coming into our room to wake us up, Siena decided to go into Thalia’s room and wake her up.

This is not what we had in mind when we told Siena to not bother us in the morning.

Eventually after Siena gets calmed down after being sent back to her room, I ask her why she went to wake up Thalia. Her only response is, “When I woke her up, she was happy.” (She says this two or three times.) While technically true, I point out to Siena that Thalia is almost always happy when we first see her in the morning because (1) she usually sleeps pretty well and (2) that’s the first time in who knows how many hours that she sees someone in the family looking back at her. I also point out to Siena that even though she made Thalia happy, Thalia is just one person, and Mama and Daddy are not particularly happy, and we are two people, so there’s a net negative happiness. I don’t think Siena understands Millsian utilitarianism yet (not that I do much either), so my argument didn’t precisely convince her.

Regardless, I wasn’t looking ahead and trying to dig into my opponent’s mind when instructing Siena not to wake us up. (If I don’t wake up my parents, who should I wake up? My sister!) And this morning, we were victims of the unintended consequence. At least she didn’t blitzkrieg.

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