Lukewarmness is for Zero Sum Games [Pope Francis Bookclub]

Lukewarmness is for Zero Sum Games [Pope Francis Bookclub] August 18, 2014

In 2014, I’m reading and blogging through Pope Francis/Cardinal Bergoglio’s Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus.  Every Monday, I’ll be writing about the next meditation in the book, so you’re welcome to peruse them all and/or read along.


Apropos of yesterday’s post on friendship, this week’s chapter from Pope Francis focuses on the “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth” passage from Revelation 3:16.

When dealing with strangers, we are surprised to encounter strong emotions, whether hatred or gratitude, but with friends it is different.  We feel stunned when they are only lukewarm toward us.  That is the great sin against friendship.  A lukewarm attitude conceals the opportunistic types, those “eternally perplexed” persons who are always wondering whether to commit themselves or not.  They are forever waiting as they make their precise calculations.  They are irreproachable; nothing “bothers” them.

Pope Francis argues that these lukewarm friends are selfish, refusing to commit or make a gift of themselves, but, in the times when I behave this way, the temptation feels like prudence.  Or, to put it more jargonly, minimaxing.

Minimaxing is the art of trying to minimize your potential losses, even at the risk of limiting your future gains.  It’s a good strategy if you’re playing some zero-sum game against a brutal (and skilled) opponent.  In every turn, you expect your partner to pick the action that will hurt you most, so you play defensively, trying to limit the damage they can do.

I’m currently at the CFAR alumni reunion, and I notice myself being lukewarm in some conversations with something akin to this motivation.  When a conversation stalls, I’m too quick to ask a boring question “So, remind me where you’re working these days?” that is intended mainly to avoid the “worst next move” — an awkward silence.  But, “Where do you work?” isn’t a question that leads very naturally to friendship and non-lukewarmness, so, when I default to that question, I’m usually just treading water, not getting to know my interlocutor better.

Approaching new people with a minimax strategy would make more sense if our primary goal were to keep everyone’s opinions of us from dipping below some critical value.  But, in order to make friends, it makes more sense to be you earlier (with all the variance that implies) so the potential new friend can make up zer mind, and move more quickly to strong attraction or repulsion.


Today is the fifth day of my novena to St. Maximilian Kolbe.  Free free to pray along.

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