The Game of Life
By S M Chen, posted Nov. 11, 2015
‘Our purpose in life is to help others.’ – W H Auden; the Dalai Lama
Monopoly was a favorite childhood game. Since I had multiple older siblings, there was almost always someone around to play with. As any who are or may have been Monopoly aficionados can attest, games, if played according to instructions, may last a long time – sometimes days.
So it was with some of our Monopoly sessions. Not having completed a given game in an allotted time, we players (always at least two, sometimes more) would carefully slide the board, playing pieces and property in situ, out of the way under a bed, to be continued after school.
In retrospect, some of the lessons of investing were there for the taking, right there before us on the colorful board designed mainly as a diversion. If one found enlightenment, that was a bonus. I admit to being a slow learner.
Years passed. I’ve not played Monopoly for years. I own a Los Angeles version of the game, but it’s sat in a closet gathering dust. It’s not the same game as the one I played as a child.
Recently I had occasion to tend my grandson, recently turned 5. After we watched ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ an animated film with singing by Burl Ives, grandson wanted to play Monopoly. He has a junior version, which I’d hitherto not known existed.
Junior Monopoly is just what you might imagine: a simplified version of the original game. The board is smaller. There’s no ‘Community Chest.’ No cards exist for property ownership, and there are no hotels. All the money comes as ones, rather than in different denominations. Rather than a pair of dice, there’s a single die.
But there’s still ‘Chance.’ How does one explain the concept of chance to a youngster? Grandson at first wondered if a chance card resulted only in good things. I told him not necessarily; wait and see.
We each chose playing pieces. His was a cat; mine a dog.
There’s a certain amount of luck involved with Monopoly in that, only if your playing piece lands on property can you opt to purchase. Generally, the player with the most property wins, winning being logically defined as having the most money.
I encouraged him to buy all the property his cat landed on. He followed my bidding.
I was less fortunate, and, while I took ownership of everything my dog landed on, I just happened to land on less property.
He acquired 10 properties, I only 6.
As the game progressed and all the property available was acquired, I landed frequently on property he owned and paid him rent. He landed less frequently on my fewer properties.
His money pile grew as mine first dwindled, then vanished.
Announcing that I was on the brink of insolvency, I was about to admit defeat when he, unprompted, handed me a small stack of bills – from his cache, not the bank’s (to facilitate matters, I was the banker).
I commended him on this sweet gesture, and promised to pay him back as soon as I became less impecunious, which I anticipated doing as soon as I passed ‘Go.’
Alas, it was not to be. Upon passing ‘Go’ (this happened several times in succession), I promptly landed on his property, and the money I’d just received from the bank immediately went to him as rent.
Again, spontaneously, he handed me a small stack of money.
His attention span is not long (he just turned 5, remember), and shortly thereafter we abandoned Junior Monopoly for other activity.
When his parents returned from their evening out, I mentioned his kindness (where did he learn that, I wondered). He overheard me and commented, “I wanted Grandpa to win.”
He and I have what I consider to be a special bond, but I have little doubt that any other name could have substituted for mine.
While there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to make too much of this, child psychologists believe that a child’s temperament is established as early as 4 months. I therefore think it reasonable to assume that my grandson’s behavior is normative for him, not an anomaly.
Whatever else he does in life, I am grateful for his gentle and noncompetitive nature.
He may end up excelling academically – or not. He may possess athletic gifts – or not.
He may accomplish great things – or not. Regardless, I think he will do little things with great love (as Mother Teresa put it).
Something has rather miraculously found its way into his consciousness, that seems to be part of who he is.
I have a profound sense of gratitude that, in this age of competition, one-upsmanship and egocentricity (I beg to differ with ‘Red’ Sanders, UCLA football coach: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”; the quote also attributed, incorrectly, to coach Vince Lombardi), the sweet spirit of selflessness yet survives, and even thrives.
As I drove home, and later, I recalled something C. S. Lewis wrote: ‘Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.’