Stop Keeping Score
Updated: Jun 14
I'm going to date myself by talking about one of my favorite films, Rain Man. My cousin and I were completely in love with Tom Cruise. (That was before we knew he was a short, stubborn, Scientologist - no offense to any out there who qualify. We just preferred taller. And less stubborn. And I still don't know what Scientology really means so I'll leave that one for later.) This is just a superb film. There is a scene when Charlie (Tom Cruise) and brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) are having breakfast and Charlie grabs Raymond by the collar to make a point. Raymond, autistic and naive, immediately gets out his little notebook and starts scribbling furiously. Charlie is irritated and grabs the notebook, revealing that Raymond is documenting the neck-grabbing incident as one in a long series of infractions that would qualify as a "serious injury". Raymond had been writing down all of the times his brother Charlie had caused him injury. Charlie thought it was a joke and laughed it off. But Raymond was serious. And Raymond was keeping score.
We don't need to be autistic to relate to Raymond because we all keep score. We mentally document when someone has wronged us, or when someone owes us, saving it for a later moment. It is as if we are just waiting for that opportunity to "take out the notebook" and detail all that has happened, as if that makes our argument more valid and more correct. We keep score in hopes of proving that we are right, and they are wrong. Keeping score seems rational and reasonable, and totally necessary in a world that affords us instant score-keeping capabilities in the forms of texts, Facebook posts, emails and more.
No relationship is free of problems, or free of hurt feelings, or injured spirits. But when we are perched on the fence, anticipating a problem, all too ready to document it and tuck it away for later, how can we enjoy the relationship? How can we relax and relate on a genuine level when we are ever-watchful for the problem that we are waiting for?
I can almost conclude that keeping score, rather than strengthening our argument, weakens our position when it comes to arguing our case. When we show another that we have been keeping score, we show our weakness. We show the other that we are ever watchful for the flaws and faults. We show that we have spent our precious time in a relationship waiting for and ticking off the negatives, and leaving the positives unaccounted for. And let's be clear - there are positives, but no one thinks to write those down. Why would we? Who needs to bring out a list of all of the nice things someone did when you are trying to build a case against them? Isn't it possible that keeping score only serves to undermine our chances of having a strong relationship with another, one that is built with mutual trust and respect? How does keeping score show any level of trust for another? How differently do we behave knowing that someone might be keeping score of what we did last week, and what we are going to do tomorrow?
When someone brings out the score card on me I am furious. It no longer becomes a discussion about that particular moment, it becomes an argument about all of these things that happened in the past, many of which I can't even remember, and most of which I'm stunned the other person is bringing up. Keeping score takes talks from a 1 to a 10 on a scale of calm to crazy and makes it clear that no action is left unnoticed. Unless, of course, that action is positive. Keeping score hurts both parties.
I'm going to stop keeping score. Its just not fair. Everyone makes mistakes. I don't want to make the mistake of making others' mistakes what defines our moments together and our relationship as a whole. Instead of keeping score, I'm just going to play the game. And when the need to address an issue presents itself, I'll address that little battle independently rather than building a whole case that starts a war. I'll save the score-keeping for the vitally important stuff, like ping pong and Uno. And rock, paper, scissors. Vitally important.