Two Types of Monopoly

Yesterday, while George Osborne was demonstrating how to play real-life ‘Monopoly’ by taking on the editorship of the London Evening Standard in addition to five other jobs (including being M.P. for Tatton and a highly-lucrative advisory post at BlackRock Investment Institute) a quiet revolution was taking place in the board-game of the same name. The boot, thimble and wheelbarrow tokens were dropped, to be replaced by a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a penguin and a ‘rubber ducky’.

Time was when work was serious and board-games reflected that. When ‘Monopoly’ was launched in the 1930s, boots, thimbles and wheelbarrows were familiar items, eloquent of hard labour, thrift and a more rural way of life than is now general. The underlying principle on which the game was based, financial and property deals caried out with imitation money, reflected very accurately some of the preoccupations of the time, following the Depression and all the ills that flowed from it. The new tokens speak more of fantasy and fun, just as Mr Osborne’s plethora of jobs suggests, to me at least, more greed than graft (most people would find doing any one of them properly quite enough). Is there a lesson here, beyond the obvious nostalgic lament for a lost world? I like to think so.

St Benedict saw a direct link between work and prayer. Work is good for us, but it must be honest work, carried out in an honest way. There is no room for greed or trickery, because the person we are when we work is also the same person we are when we go to prayer. His chapters on Daily Manual Labour (RB 48) or the Artisans of the Monastery (RB 57) are full of wise spiritual reflection on the value of what we do. However, he never makes the mistake of equating work with prayer in the simplistic way that many try to do. Prayer is work, yes; but not all work is prayer, nor can we substitute work for prayer. Above all, I think we can safely say that Benedict saw work as a common enterprise in which all engaged and from which all benefited. His care for the weak, for the less able, made him sensitive to the way in which the strong can use their strength to claim a position not available to the less fortunate. I’m not sure he would have liked ‘Monopoly’ as a game; and I am pretty certain he would have taken a dim view of amassing more jobs than one has time for, no matter how good or useful one might think them. Prudence, as he said, is the mother of all virtues, and taking on too much is as silly as refusing to take on anything at all.

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