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  • Gail Wong

How a 6-year old disrupted Capitalism

Have you played Monopoly recently?

It starts as a land grab after which the rich (and lucky) get richer and eventually, “takes all”. The poor are trapped in a never-ending cycle of scarcity and debt.

I innocently dusted off my Singapore edition of Monopoly one rainy weekend not expecting a bitter reminder of what life is as a “Have-not” in the game of “Winners Take All”.

All it took was a couple unlucky turns to find myself at the bottom of the pyramid— zero cash, a couple mortgages and asset-poor — with a sinking feeling that it was too late to change anything. The dread of being one step from disaster, bankruptcy and isolation. The utter dependency for a break to stay alive. Wishing I was in someone else’s shoes, thinking: there really isn’t any hope. What’s the point in carrying on?

Growing up in Singapore and on Wall Street means my circles comprise active participants in social mobility, who participate with a spectrum of attitudes: resigned practicality vs. extreme joy posting selfies in their private jet.

By definition, being socially mobile means there are a great many more below us: 50%, 80%, 99% of the world’s population. Some born into it, some stumbled into it (maybe even attended an Ivy League business school).

Side note — does it really matter how they find themselves there?

Make no mistake — unlike me in Monopoly, they can’t just tag out of “the game” (and its scarcity experience).

Even those “doing well” often feel like a “Have Not”, blind to the struggles of those below, and still driven by the fear of being left behind.

Back to my family’s game — there are some helpful life lessons, and it also showed me a higher path, which is why I’m sharing this story.

I returned to Day 4 of a family game with a great deal of discomfort about the future.

“This is really no fun…” I moaned, after landing in jail. For it was a miserly and futile existence to celebrate this life event, even if it meant short-term reprieve from getting deeper into the hole.

We collectively agreed to start with a clean slate tomorrow.

Nonetheless, my husband (the top dog) gave me significant and numerous rent rebates — though we both know he was buttering me up to get into my pants that night. (Life lesson #1)

The daughter dispensed some bedtime admonishment: “Mummy, you better learn to spend your money better tomorrow. Don’t end up bankrupt again.” (Life lesson #2: Shame is a powerful, isolating force. And we all have at least one imprinted memory of financial shame lurking in our psyche.)

New day, new game. My 6 year-old who, until now a distracted bystander, took his seat at the table for the first time and proceeded to go full-on Towkay: property developer by the third round and hotelier before I completed my first set. By then, his sister, who had earlier passed on purchasing the site that formed his first colour set and now trailing in assets, shrieked “dowan to play anymore!” in thwarted hysterics.

My son is someone who hesitates to throw down a ‘+2’ in Uno if I’m next in line. When I landed on his hotel site — a $550 rent that would have wiped me out — he smiled gleefully, then declared, “Free stay for you! Next time too!” Even after we explained that the whole point of invested capital was to collect a windfall now, he cheerfully insisted, “I don’t need it. It’s OK!” with unadulterated joy.

He seemed to have found far greater pleasure in everyone being able to thrive and carry on than the game’s objective (extracting every dollar to forward oneself).

He knew receiving money meant someone’s suffering and wasn’t going to stand for it.

It made me think of a moment in Peace is Every Step, the documentary about the extraordinary life of recently-passed Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Individual happiness can never exist. Look at a mother and daughter. If one is not happy, there is no way for the other to be happy. Happiness should be understood in the light of “inter being”. When you make your mother smile, you feel happy. The best way to be happy is to make the other person happy.”

My son didn’t study spirituality to come to this conclusion. It was simply obvious to a child’s uncorrupted heart that the game would be miles better if we threw out the old rule book.

Look what happened when we did. It set the tone for a completely new game, and hours flew by in this compact. The need to accumulate, fortunes waxing and waning — all this faded into the background.

Instead, enjoying being together took centre stage of the experience.

One’s balance sheet no longer dictated the players’ emotional tenor. Because no one was left to fend for self at the whims of capricious charity.

Rather, WE were a community that considered the collective well-being of every member. Each person’s happiness and safety was equally important, regardless of our net worth.

Breaking those rules means breaking the Invisible Hand — yes, the same one I have studied, practiced and revered like gravity as the backbone of modern-day capitalism.

It’s been 5 years since I began challenging and unlearning “That’s the way it works, sweetie.” Cognitively, I have devoured stacks of thought leadership on systems change. I have experienced first-hand and witnessed countless acts of radical generosity in SheEO and recently joined Angels of Impact; both communities practice relationship-based non-extractive financing, dismantling social barriers and asking/giving as a way of life.

This prepared me to receive the powerful lesson:

Money is an instrument of love. Money is medicine.

Medicine for businesses and communities that would thrive from capital and other injections, and medicine for the soul.

Disrupting this “game” calls for awakening and moral courage from everyone to recognise your power/ position and step out of the system that enslaves all of us.

Participate or create an entirely different paradigm that measures and optimises for other things: fairness, abundance, well-being, for a start.

If a pint-sized, emotionally-illiterate first-grader accomplished this his first go-around, we sure can. How about we start by looking in the mirror and asking ourselves,

What will I do with my love (money)?

P.S. You might enjoy this article about the game’s little-known origins: Monopoly was invented (by a woman!) in service of social activism.


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