YOLO (you only live once!), so make sure you are worth more than just money

2012-10-28 14:20

Why do we still judge others according to how much money they have? Bling, cars, property, when is enough enough? And if money is who we are, then who are we when our money – or the manifestation of money in material possession - is taken away from us?

Years ago my hubby and I lost a business. I learned valuable lessons. I learned that an Animal Welfare collection tin holds about eighty rand in small change (peeled open in a state of deprived panic); I learned the humbling lesson of borrowing from family to pay our home loan; my children learned that there are other ways of getting to school besides riding in a BMW –the train is an acceptable means of transport, and legs are made for walking.

Let me say upfront we were not close to being paupers, but I felt fearful and insecure - it’s a shock to the system when the regular income you’re used to is simply not there to spend. We spent years settling debt. I didn’t want to screw anybody financially. I learned too that family does not disappear into thin air like ‘money’ does and that the love of children counts; that these are the kind of riches we take for granted as we run the treadmill of making more than we will ever need.

The shallow truth is that money is considered by many as a marker of human value; as the ‘reward which goes to those who are more beautiful, more talented, and more powerful than others’ writes philosopher A.C. Grayling. This might be the over-riding belief that keeps so many people craving more, lots of money and lots of things, to show not only their worth but their superiority.

For too many people then, making money is connected to this misconception that ‘money maketh the person’. Every action is then geared towards increasing the value of money in bank accounts and investments.

Once upon a time the pound used to have the equivalent value in silver – it was worth its weight in sterling. But now, money is an abstract concept: if someone has a billion, how does one measure that in real terms? It’s not sitting in piles in a vault. We worship the number, the higher the better. ‘Money’ accumulates interest which will never ever in the greedy man’s life be spent.

For others money is a means to an end. Their millions buy stuff: new suits, one hundred pairs of shoes, golf clubs, 4X4’s to negotiate city speed bumps, and droom paleise sitting empty by the sea. All these trappings acquired to prop up a tentative sense of self identity.

Max Moyo, founder and CEO of ‘Ignite My Potential’ succinctly distils the underlying problematic relationship many of us have with money: ‘Until we sort out who we are, discover our gifts and our talents, explore our identity issues, money will be meaningless and families will be destroyed.’ If the message passed down is that making money for money’s sake is worth aspiring to and that spending is where it’s at, when this bubble bursts it can be devastating.

To take this argument further, with the budget on people’s minds, we can’t ignore the fact that aspiring to make more and more as a validation of who we are ultimately corrupts at the highest levels.

South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has made clear that ‘corruption is a tango with two people, inside government and outside government. The parties involved in corruption should mutually share the consequences of their actions’. Sure, corruption is not purely the fault of government, and some big business may well be amoral, but money – or the allure of it and the trappings and the ego-boost connected to having money - is corrupting too many leaders who are meant to look out for our best interests.

Leaders are tasked to find ways to ease poverty, and to align their behaviour and actions with moral concepts such as good, and right. They should know that ‘who they are’ does not equate with ‘how much they have’.

If government spenders keep the people in poverty while the few live the very high life, then they do wrong. Equally, hoarding money as a private individual -more than our children’s children can possibly ever use up in their lifetimes - is also wrong. The dichotomies of spending and hoarding perpetuate the suffering of humanity, in this case the South African poor.

No doubt people will continue to enrich themselves, and to enjoy the pleasures that money brings– why not? Grayling also writes that ‘rational thinking allows that we don’t just want money for money’s sake, we want it because of what spending it provides: experience, endeavour, enjoyment, energy.’ #YOLO. You Only Live Once, according to the rapper Drake and my teenage daughters. If you don’t spend your money, one thing is sure – it ain’t going to the grave with you in your pockets.

Of course I’m not saying we should blow every penny. No doubt about it, as Gordhan encourages, saving offers long-term security in families and in governments. Let’s be sensible.

But it’s time to reassess, as a nation, the true meaning of wealth. Being rich is knowing who we are, at core, without the trappings of wealth. Being rich is having supportive family and friends, and good governance. Reward comes when we share our money to make life more tolerable for those who have nothing. It's time to move away, very far away, from the crippling and corrupting illusion that the more you have, the more you are worth.

The truth to recognize is the point at which we become 'money collectors' rather than on focusing on the choices that money can give us. And the work to be done is to examine the underlying need for money as validation.

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