I woke up from a dream a while back. It left me kinda lonely and sad.
We were sitting in a shareholders meeting. Apparently, I was a major player in this organization and we were contemplating an offer to sell the company. I was examining financial disclosures and discussing them with the two other principles of the organization. I kept bringing up that this was just financial stuff. It didn’t even come close to representing all that we had built. All the people we employed. The lives and families we’d touched.
The response I got back was essentially that the financial stuff is the only important part. People don’t buy companies based on their benefit to society, the employees or the community at large. None of that mattered. I woke up kinda dejected and uncomfortable. It brought to mind the following:
Some people are so poor all they have is money.
Now, I’m not a powerful or wealthy person. In any organization. Like a lot of people in this country, nearly all of my net worth is in a retirement fund. I’ve never attended a shareholders meeting, nor do I have any inclination to do so. But I think my reaction to that dream is spot on.
We have the responsibility to build something with our lives that is way more valuable than what can be expressed on a balance sheet. If all you have to leave the world at the end of your life is money, you are indeed destitute. An empty soul.
There is music in the very air we breathe. Love makes the leaves on the trees tremble. Real Life has no connection to money whatsoever. Except how much of ours we will sacrifice in it’s pursuit. I’m fifty six old. Six months ago I bought a brand new van. As a project. To build myself a custom camper. Which I intend to take on the road after this pandemic runs its course. And I plan to live in this van for the next couple of years. Why? Because, like writing, I’ve always had this desire to see what’s over the hill or around the next bend. But it never called to me loudly enough to set aside other “more important” pursuits. And now, at this ripe old age I’m coming to understand that the most important things are those that give you joy or fulfill some long unrealized aspiration. Everything else should take a backseat.
Don’t let yourself become a poor rich person. Take those Tango lessons. Book that whitewater rafting trip. Learn to ride a motorcycle. Stop and talk to the old guy fishing on the pier, he’s probably got a fascinating story to tell. Become a person rich in experience, knowledge, skill, craft and insight. If you make tons of money that’s fine but it’s not a worthy pursuit in and of itself.
There are always winners and losers, right? He who dies with the most toys wins. Must we always climb over the bodies to reach the top?
Not if we redefine the goal. I’ve always struggled with the idea of competition. On the one hand, it’s the very essence of nature. Species compete with each other for resources. Individuals compete within the social order for the opportunity to mate, eat and survive. The strongest come out on top. Most of the time.
This works quite well. On a local or even a regional level. But scale it up to the level of nations, continents or planets and it’s a recipe for wholesale destruction. Greed is not good. Greed will get us all killed. And guess what? Greed starts with the individual.
That’s right, given the current state of our world, your desire to have it all means somebody else has to go without. As long as it’s “anybody first” we all lose, eventually. The richest nine men in the world have more combined wealth than over half the worlds population. A helluva lot of people are going without for these guys to “have it all”.
The tribal nature of humanity is an evolutionary dead end.
The only way out of this mess is to redefine what having it all means.
The Iroquois held that in all things one must peer seven generations into the future to prepare for the impact of today’s decisions. Seven generations is about 140 years. Longer than anyone will live. Long enough that no matter what you have acquired, it will no longer have any value to you. Long enough that, given the current state of the environment, humanity and most of the rest of the large mammals on this planet may not survive.
And yet almost half of all American’s have essentially no retirement savings at all. People, we can’t even look far enough ahead to make sure we ourselves don’t die of starvation while, in the immortal words of Matt Foley: “living in a van down by the river!”
Why is this? Because, somehow we’ve come to believe that “beating the competition” is a noble pursuit. But it’s not. On a planet with almost eight billion human souls, it’s tantamount to genocide. There must be a higher good. Something beyond animal instinct to create meaning in life. All the wise sages of the past knew this. They taught cooperation, love for your fellow beings, peace. None of the holy writings of our history advocated grabbing all you can get for yourself. And yet, this is what we have decided to hold up as the crowning achievement of civilization.
I submit that we have collectively lost our souls. Sold them for thirty pieces of silver. And that’s a more apt description of it than you might realize. Because if we don’t pull our collective heads out of our asses, we may well have sold out all life on this planet. The planet will survive, even thrive, eventually. But we may not. And how much potential will we have squandered?
I think there’s a better way. But it starts with empathy. We need to learn to care about others. Other people. People who don’t look like us. People who don’t think like us. Even people who don’t love like us. And we need to consider all the other life on this ball of energy too. Only then will we be able to redefine success as a measure of ones positive impact to the world in which they live rather than by the size of the fortune they leave to their heirs.