Striving for victory is good, but sometimes cooperating is better.
Competition is good. As a child who grew up in a family where Monopoly games lasted for days, I have tended to subscribe to this position. Competition makes people strive and innovate. It's fun, too. We even made our own Monopoly chequebooks when our deals got too big and we ran out of money.
Conversely, lately I keep being struck by occasions when the no-holds-barred battle to win at all costs is counterproductive, ugly, wasteful or simply inappropriate.
This week, when I watched the excruciating coverage as rescuers waited to get the all-clear to go into the Pike River Mine, like most people I was moved by the decency and the stoicism of the relatives, rescuers and Coasters. At times of profound trauma no one says, "Why don't we form a few different rescue teams and compete to see who can get to the miners first?"
When looking into the abyss, all of a sudden co-operation, not competition, is attractive, if not automatic. Even the pushy questioning at the media press conferences seems incongruous in a crisis. What matters is getting the miners out; which TV network gets the scoop is a distant consideration.
I suppose the high-tech gizmos used to go down the mine were produced by competition - but since I wrote that sentence the robot broke down, which rather supports the view that it is human innovation which matters most.
Competition is healthy, but it is also essential to know on what occasions an arms-race approach is not productive. For example, friendship, family, motherhood and crazy high-heeled shoes (is it just me or have women's shoes become anthropologically freakish?)
The "mine is bigger than yours" attitude is insidious and destructive where human relationships are concerned. My daughter just had her sixth birthday party. I couldn't sleep the night before, I was such a stressbucket. Tragic, I know. But I was worried her party wouldn't measure up against the other kids. She would feel inferior; I would be shunned in the playground. I felt myself getting swept up in some Darwinian battle of birthday parties.
There was talk of some parents who hired a van and took the children to the Tip Top factory - why didn't I think of that? Some other clever sod had hired Playball. Kids love that. Help! I hadn't organised any official "entertainment".
It turned out fine, of course. The other parents were supportive, not sneery - the Playball mum even led the kids dancing to Justin Bieber and no one was snarky about my bought cupcakes. But why did I get so bent out of shape in the first place?
Maybe we need more competition in some areas - education, where all must win prizes and everyone's a winner, baby. And less competition in others, like birthday parties, when frankly, who cares?
I hope big thinker Robert Wright is right. He is author of NonZero, the Logic of Human Destiny, in which he argues we are becoming more evolved and able to strike win-win deals, rather than playing a zero-sum game of winners and losers.
Wright says the human species stands at an inflection point after which our future will be much happier than the past because we will be selecting more win-win scenarios.
The other night we played Monopoly a different way, where you just dole out the properties at the beginning and then trade streets so you can get to the action more quickly.
"Socialist monopoly," guffawed one of my free-market friends. But we built a lot more hotels. And we all had fun.