Game of Thrones, the Game of Roles, and Praying for Capitol Hill

In college, I started playing this game called Diplomacy, which is similar to the board game Risk but without the dice. If you’re a nerd for political theory as I am, you’ll love it. The game is all about negotiation: You win or lose based on how well you can convince the other players to work with you and help you achieve your goals.

The board is a political map based on turn-of-the-century Europe, with the countries/teams defined by the 1901 borders of Austria-Hungary, France, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, Turkey (aka the Ottoman Empire) and Germany.

The ultimate goal is to take over the majority of the map, but the only way you can do that is by working with other players/countries, aligning your interests and working toward similar goals. The game requires a great deal of trust between allies and constantly you’re working angles to turn enemies into friends, to sway the a balance of things in your favor, and to protect your interests while expanding your sphere of influence.

There’s a Machiavellian feel to things, and it’s fun to figure out the way you can approach people with ideas, convincing them that it’s their idea or that in the end going along with these things will ultimately benefit them, even if it actually doesn’t.

In some ways, Capitol Hill is a very similar environment.

Currently, my office is in the midst of a major transition. Our chief of Staff and our Legislative Director recently announced that they’re leaving. Neither is leaving for reasons related to our office, but instead because outside opportunities came along that were too good to pass up. Now we staffers are trying to negotiate our ways to better positions because of the power vacuum these transitions have left before us. It’s like a real-life version of Diplomacy, with different entities aligning because, in the end, if one succeeds then the interests of the alliance are furthered.

One of my favorite political characters on television currently is Lord Varys from the HBO show Game of Thrones. The character is one who has a network of “little birds” keeping him informed of the goings on about the Seven Kingdoms. In this show, knowledge is power, and showing that you know the right things at the right time can make or break you. Similarly—and maybe this is why the show resonates so strongly with those living in DC—knowledge, and knowing when to leverage that knowledge, is vital in situations similar to the one I am currently facing. It could mean the difference between advancement or standing still, victory or defeat.

The problem with the situation that I’m currently describing is that there’s an absence of empathy, and it promulgates an environment of manipulation rather than cooperation. If everyone is working toward their own ends rather than toward the greater good, it’s often to the detriment of those around us or at the expense of those we’re supposed to represent. It removes humility from the equation, placing our needs and desires above others. The challenge that presents itself is learning how to advance your own goals without manipulating others; to respond in love rather than out of selfish ambition.

This weekend, take some time to pray for the people who are working on Capitol Hill and in state capitols around the U.S. Pray for rest, endurance and restoration for them. And pray that any Christians God has placed on Capitol Hill or in your state capitol can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to demonstrate a counter-cultural humility and empathy, even in the face of their sometimes-Machiavellian work environment. 

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  • Kathy Johnson is a politically moderate Midwesterner who now calls DC home and works in the U.S. House of Representatives. She speaks fluent sarcasm (thanks mom!) and most days needs two things to function: grace and coffee.

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