As I mentioned when I started my trip in September, I wanted to tease out the rhetorical question “how much is enough?” If you didn’t read my original post, this question has been gnawing at me since I first stopped living paycheck to paycheck at say, 26. What is our individual process or is there one for asking this question? What do we really need to be happy? I believe it is at the root of many of our problems as a society evolves.
Lots of my meanderings slipped into self absorption about my trip and the people and places I experienced. But the underlying question was always there.
I’ve worked in finance where growth and profitability is king. I’ve worked in sustainable development and clean energy where, to a lesser extent, the question of sustainability percolates in the background. In many cases it is tabled as programs are designed to improve lives economically. And how can you ask how much is enough when people have so little? Well in most societies, just wait. Because as they grow and the income gap expands (if it hasn’t already) these questions should be leveled on the newer rich, even though they likely won’t have the experience to address it.
In both India and China for example we are really seeing the first generation of new riches. And in my opinion there are not two more obscene examples of “I had nothing before and now I’m going crazy.” With no conscience at all.
I experienced having more than I needed and not understanding it briefly at 25 and again later in life. “You mean I don’t have to use my credit card and can buy what I want?” Wow. Freedom. It was short lived at 25 when a college buddy and roommate in Chicago asked me if I wanted to go to Michigan Avenue for “spending wars.” I did. It was stupid. And my $500 leather jacket ended up at goodwill. Never again.
My income has gone up and down over the years and has rarely been consistent. I’ve always said I don’t wanna be rich. I just don’t wanna be poor.
Now please understand. I am not using myself as an example NOR am I judging those that do not lift their heads and ask “do i really need this?”
I am simply examining the process, lack of process or self justification in ridiculous accumulation. “My kids need to go to college” “I’ve earned the money and can give it to my kids” “there are no jobs” “the second home is an investment” “The 70k SUV is for family safety” ” We gotta build a 4000 square foot home as our lot is so big and we won’t get our return”
My point is that we all make excuses. “I can live in my custom ford van off the grid” and “I rent my extra space for below market rent”. I do it too!
However, there are end points. One example is the AMERICAN that buys an acre of land in Guatemala and builds an abnormally sized house (for Guatemala) and lives there a few months of the year. With money made in the US.
That example, where you are choosing to have something that DIRECTLY impacts people that have little to nothing and you don’t AT LEAST educate yourself and ask yourself the hard question. “Do I need/want this, why, and whom am I impacting directly or indirectly?”
Just ask. Be honest. “I just want it.”
My point is that if you continually ask yourself that question, hopefully, eventually, you will use a different set of parameters during your decision process and understand the implications of your actions (and the interdependent nature of all things) AND might, just might, take the ever so slightest pause before you make the decision. Maybe not the first big paycheck. Maybe never. BUT ASK THE QUESTION! PLEASE!
The reality is that communities decay when too much is in the hands of too few. Our recent tax bill is the most cynical, mean spirited and right in your face example of this. If you support it, you’re either ignorant, or fucking greedy. Consider yourself judged. And to that end if you still support Donald Trump. Just un friend me. This is getting silly.
Having more more more is not a religious virtue. Nor is passing all your wealth to your kids. Was it Dale Carnegie that said “Give your kids enough to do anything. Just not enough to do nothing”. Exactly.
Economic disparity is a very nuanced and detailed topic. However, there are tried and true methods that work that can maintain a semblance of civil society. And we in the United States have dismantled nearly every one.
In essence, I’m not legislating morality. I’m legislating against greed. And when you come to that conclusion that you are being greedy, self-justification aside, don’t just donate money. Work to change the system (or at least don’t contribute to it) and take pause the next time you want to buy something you don’t need. Or invest in something that has negative effects on the world.
I’m just asking questions.
Thanks Asia for the reality check i always seem to need. Knowing I could never live here full time does not have me love it any less. Watching the developing world make the same mistakes we westerners have made breaks my heart.
But it all doesn’t matter if you’re in the moment and watching the sun set over the Himalayas. Or the Arabian Sea….