A Game of Marbles

As a fourth grader at Grandview Elementary, few things in life mattered more to me than my marble collection. Hong Kong Phooey was a distant second on my list of priorities. All I cared about was my little blue pouch of marbles I carried to school every day.

The most competitive games were played during recess. The game we played consisted of one player dropping a marble on the grass and the other player trying to hit it. If he was successful, he’d take both marbles. We’d alternate back and forth until someone pocketed  all the marbles.

But occasionally a kid would show up with a steely which looks like a regular marble but made of steel. This character would play a fair game until he saw me toss one of my bigger and better marbles. That’s when he’d pull out the steely and let it fly. At the very least, he’d knock a chip off my marble. And sometimes he’d shatter it to pieces with a solid hit.


The kid packing steelies didn’t care about the competition or the chance to win a few marbles. Nope. All he wanted to do was disrupt the game and then run off laughing.

My pouch of marbles is long gone, but I’m convinced some adults continue to carry around “steelies” looking to disrupt whatever project, meeting, or idea they come across. They seldom bring anything constructive to the table yet they’re ready to pounce on any idea or suggestion with a virtual steely. They aren’t difficult to recognize. They have a laundry list of reasons an idea can’t be tested.  The mock ideas they don’t understand, and have a knack for dreaming up highly unlikely scenarios where the new idea will fail.

I once had a coworker who brought a bag full of steelies to work every day. He liked to argue about the smallest and most random details. He loved to chime in on topics well out of his scope of responsibility. I occasionally fell for his trap and tried to debate him. But the debates never ended because he didn’t want them to end.

Over time I realized he wasn’t interested in solving the problem in much the same way the kid tossing the steely wasn’t interested in the game. His interest was in the debate. If he could escalate it into a shouting match, even better.

I’ve found the best way for me to deal with such people is to ignore them. Don’t play their game by jumping into the fight with your own steely.

Sometimes it’s easier to pickup your bag of marbles and search for someone else who wants to play the game.

Photo by Nico Cavallotto

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