Playing the Devil Card
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Contrast.
I remember the first time my Personal Obi-Wan used the term “Devil’s Play” in a conversation with me. She’s tried to tell me since then that it’s not always as with the motivations I’d thought, but I never understood that until the latest batch of office politics hit a colleague of mine. It’s like the Devil Card in the Tarot deck.
The first time I heard my Personal Obi-Wan use “Devil’s Play” was in regard to a woman who’d told me a huge pack of lies about The Treat, including a variety of supposed sexual encounters and extensive allegations of promiscuity. She started with griping that he talked about me all the time, that he wouldn’t shut up about me, and later she changed her tactics to tell me all the “personal” information she knew, with a few very hurtful twists. She did her best to scare me off permanently—and I, disillusioned, did stay away for a while—but mostly she succeeded in breaking my heart. She also gave me reason to believe that she would do me physical harm if I continued to have an interest in him.
The next time I heard the term, months later, it was used to describe a woman who was manipulating a friend of mine, basically trapping him in a very bad situation so she could use his power to make her goals happen.
I didn’t hear the term again for another six months or so, and it was all about sabotage. People sabotaging other people’s lives for their own benefits, and with no regard to how much hurt they were causing. The phrase became a regular expression for two particular groups, and because the effects of the sabotage were so far-reaching and cruel, I came to regard “Devil’s Play” as something malevolent, diabolical.
Over the past couple of months, the term has come up repeatedly, several times in regard to a friend trying to break away from his old job and get into a new one and a few times in regard to old saboteurs at play. It’s an odd enough phrase that it catches my attention when I hear it—and it usually makes me groan.
“Devil’s Play isn’t always malevolent,” my Personal Obi-Wan assures me. She points out how ineffective the saboteurs are now. They try, but no longer to any avail. She points out that the manipulation attempts against my friend are all about business and having power over him. Not with an intent to destroy him but simply different business goals and trying to force him to follow their path so they can use his fire as fuel. I can understand her point but it just doesn’t sink in. I’ve been so trained to think of Devil’s Play in terms of the woman who desperately wanted me away from The Treat and was willing to do anything she had to to make me keep my distance from him.
It’s through a situation that has nothing whatsoever to do with me that I finally understand what Devil’s Play is, and that truly, it’s not always malevolent.
A few weeks ago, a colleague I have adored for years told me some happy news. The people she worked for were finally doing something wonderful for her. I was so pleased to hear this. She’s an amazing woman, very kind and compassionate, hard-working, well-liked. She’s also put up with a lot. I’ve seen her bosses do incredible things for her co-workers and pass her over because she’s not a complainer and she just takes whatever she can get. So this was great news, indeed. She’s a wonderful person who deserves so much.
I ran into her while picking up a last-minute Yule present—she gave me her unused 20% off coupon—and she told me her fortune had reversed again. The Great And Wonderful Thing her bosses were doing for her really wasn’t for her. It was for the benefit of a Golden Child, who had changed her mind, gotten a better deal, and now all promises were off. The Great And Wonderful Thing had been rescinded at the eleventh hour. The thing is, this has happened before, same Golden Child, who has been screwing up this colleague’s career path as well as a number of others’ paths for at least six months while trying to make up her mind about what she wants to do with her own life.
“Things could be worse,” my colleague told me, and all I could think was “They should be so much better for you!”
Then the term “Devil’s Play” flashed across my mind. And I understood. Her bosses and co-workers didn’t throw a monkey wrench into her career plans for fun or to see what damage they could do. No, not at all. They even like her. A lot. They certainly know her worth to them as an employee. But this was about having power over her and over the situation, about using her if they needed to in order to get what they wanted and meet their goals. It had nothing to do with her except that they needed her.
Looking back on the other examples of “Devil’s Play” I’ve known, it’s been about power. Sometimes it took the form of financial power or sexual power, but it was always about power. Not about lust or anger or greed, but about gaining power over someone to fuel their own desires. And that’s what “Devil’s Play” is—a power play.