Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Meaning of Wealth

This weekend I finished rereading Tuesdays with Morrie, A good read. Lots of reminders to stay focused on the relationships in our lives—the importance of truly connecting with people, and the ease with which the details of living distract us from our highest values.

What makes you feel most alive?

For Morrie, it was other people.

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it in.”

“Love each other, or perish.”

“Invest in the human family. Invest in people. Build a little community of those who love you.”

This is good advice. Human relationships are central for me as well. All that I do, read, think about, plan, build, play –all of that would be so much less, so lonely, without people to share it with. Really share it with. Through common values, as well as by appreciating each other’s uniqueness.

Morrie also decries the attention our culture gives to material goods and success at work. His criticism, however, strikes me as somewhat off the mark.

Wealth is constantly under attack, as “materialism,” “greed,” the “means of exploitation,” both of people and of the earth. These attacks seem to ignore the fact that wealth is key to our ability not just to survive, but to thrive as human beings. Where discussions frequently go astray, by wealth’s defenders as often as by its attackers, is the failure to recognize that wealth is not an end in itself. It is simply a means. The purpose of wealth is to serve human life.

Wealth is the means for each individual to transform the physical world into those things which will best serve his life. Material, goods are not the reason we live, work, and trade, but they are an important part of how we live, work, ands trade. Wealth is central to achieving the health, security and energy we need in order to aim higher than mere physical survival. To view wealth as an end in itself, whether to attack it, or pursue it, or to defend it, is to misunderstand the role of wealth in our lives. Wealth, the goods themselves or the money which stands in their place, --these are the tools we use in the service of living.

Wealth makes possible the luxury of focusing beyond our next meal to manifesting our creative capacities. In art, in science, in business, in loving relationships. Wealth frees us from the urgency of the physical requirements of life so we may reach ever greater heights in attending to the spiritual rewards of living.

Wealth allows us options. It still is up to each of us individually to identity and stay focused on what is important. Tuesdays with Morrie is a nice reminder to do just that-- to make my highest values my highest priority.

It is as simple--and as hard--as that.



Darin said...

Hi Beth,

I have not read the book you mention, however, I would agree that his critisms (assuming that what you state is what he has said) are certainly misplaced. To me, wealth is an outcome of our productive achievements which give purpose for our necessity to advance ourselves (thus advancing others as an unintended consequence - Smithian, if you will).... Wealth did not exist prior to man, but rather as a result of man (opinion).

Again, I have not read the book you mention, however, the quotes you provided seem as if their exist a bit of a collectivist undertone. This is why there seems (to me) to be an attact on success.

poor boomer said...

My poverty fills me with shame and I respond by withdrawing from people.

Beth said...

poor boomer:

Wealth is material goods made by man.

If you have stored food, clothing or shelter, you have wealth.