by Ken Burak
Summer vacation with the family in Vermont. Rainy morning. Aha! Monopoly! I decide to teach my two girls – Hannah (7) and Dhara (5)—how to play. I figure it’s best for them to learn by playing. First they pick their pieces. Dhara: top hat. Hannah: ship. After a bit, Dhara-top hat lands on Park Place and I advise her to buy it. She asks why and I explain that if she does, and Hannah-ship lands on it, Hannah-ship will have to pay her lots of rent to stay there. Dhara insists that she wouldn’t charge her sister, that she could stay for free, that it would be fun. I object that while that may be so, it could be fun and she could get some money out of it. Dhara asks me why she wants the money. I explain that without money you can’t buy things. Dhara seems somewhere between upset and confused: “But then, if Hannah gives me money, she won’t be able to buy things, and she’s my sister and I love her and I want her to be able to buy things.”
I looked at the game in horror… as if I had told them at too young of an age about genocide or slavery or global warming or conflict diamonds or mass extinctions. Only what I told them was worse because it was about the soul.
I take a deep breath.
And I explain as best I can. “Dhara: you love your sister, and I love that about you. Your sister loves you too. But for now, while you’re playing this game, you’re not Dhara: you’re Top Hat. And she’s not Hannah: she’s Ship. And although Dhara loves Hannah, Top Hat hates Ship. And Ship hates Top Hat. It’s nothing personal (as they say).” Top Hat just knows that in this game, she can only win if Ship loses, that she only gets stuff if Ship loses stuff, that her happiness depends on Ship’s misery. And Ship knows the same thing.”
They both looked at me in horror.
I looked at the game in horror. At this world in horror. At myself, as a father, in horror, like I had told them too much, as if I had told them at too young of an age about genocide or slavery or global warming or conflict diamonds or mass extinctions. Only what I told them was worse because it was about the soul.
Dhara said she didn’t want to play anymore. Hannah: me neither. And they went outside to blow bubbles in the sun.
Oh, will you look at that, the sun’s out, the sun’s finally come out. I smiled.
Ken teaches Philosophy at Northampton Community College.
Editors’ note (May 2013): Readers who like this story may want to check out Co-opoly, from the Toolbox for Education and Social Action [TESA], described in an article from Truthout, ‘Teach Your Children Well: Don’t Play Monopoly‘ [May 23 2013]
(Published in the 2012 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)