As kids, my siblings and I would often get together with other children who lived on our street to play the board game Monopoly. Without fail, every game would evoke such wild extremes of behaviour that they strike me now as a wonderful analogy for the human condition. I’ll explain!
You come into ‘the game’ having no clue whatsoever about how to play. Then you take on an identity: you are the top hat, thimble, racing car, boot, Scottie dog, battleship, iron or wheelbarrow. Uncertain and a little bewildered you make your first tentative steps around the board whilst everyone else tells you the rules (although no one seems to agree exactly on what they are).
Slowly you get the hang of it and begin accumulating money, properties, houses and hotels of your own. And this is where the ‘fun’ begins! For when things are going well you feel special, powerful, self-satisfied; your thoughts are dominated by schemes and strategies for earning more money, getting more properties, for taking over the entire board. But then, as your fortunes start to slide, and you watch your hard earned piles of cash slowly disappear, your feelings can morph into tension, frustration, anxiety; into helplessness, self-pity, envy, regret; into anger, hatred, even rage (there was one boy on our street who, when he realised he couldn’t win, would flip the board over sending all the money, cards and houses flying and storm out of the room!).
Then there can be a beautiful moment of clarity. You re-cognise that the money and properties are make-believe, that your true identity is not that little token moving round the board, that it’s only a game.
And this is where the analogy breaks down. For this ‘game of life’ is not only a game; that way leads to pointlessness and nihilism. Rather it’s a real game, and who you truly are is being all of it: the board, tokens, money and cards, the houses and hotels, highs and lows, successes and disappointments, the entire experience itself.
With that glorious realisation the game still plays on, you still have to pay the ‘electric company’, ‘water works’, and ‘income tax’, still experience all the challenges of living, but the heavy seriousness transmutes into a sweet lightness, for whatever happens You’ve already won! And now the joy is in the playing.