The real measure of our wealth is how much we'd be worth if we lost all our money.
- John Henry Jowett, preacher (1864-1923)
Donald Trump, poor. He’d just be an annoying boor. No, no, he’s that already. I meant a poor, annoying…..No, everyone would just ignore him.
Bill Gates, poor. Once the world’s richest man, Bill has been giving away billions of dollars to charities over the past few years, not the least huge sums for AIDS research and literacy projects (through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). He’s an entrepreneur, someone who scooped great ideas from other people and turned them into a worldwide empire. Bill would make out alright because he knows how to manage people, to make them feel good about being successful working for projects he operates.
In 1929, with the crash of the stock markets and the beginning of the Great Depression, so many paper-wealthy men went broke overnight that many of them jumped out of windows in their top floor offices on Wall Street. That’s a statement not about their not wanting to be poor, but about the value they placed on their own lives without a great deal of money to throw around.
I see hordes of people in North American cities (my home continent, so those are the people I see in person and on television) creating lives for themselves based on the values preached to them by industries. The descriptive word I can’t escape from to attach to their lives is pretension. They are the people they believe they are. They live the lives that industry wants them to live, holding the values and beliefs that industry teaches them by various means. They have none of their own.
They have no idea of their basic human worth, other than as they compare themselves to others according to their financial net worth and their ostentatious possessions.
Poor people, on the other hand, seem to have a clear grasp of who they are in real terms. They know they are at the bottom of the heap socially as well as financially. Many of them use their position to their advantage, accepting social assistance from governments who collect tax money from the rich. Others, especially those on whom poverty has come to stay due to misfortune, health problems or physical/intellectual limitations, see their lives as one continual climb out of the pit that life has thrown them into.
Perhaps the people who have the clearest idea of who they are and the value they have to the world are the homeless, especially those who have been homeless for several years. They form friendships, bonds and working relationships based on what they can offer to others and what they can get from others.
The homeless are valued as people, among themselves, more than any other social group because all they have to offer anyone else is themselves. They value each other and who they are in relation to the others in their lives. To the homeless, a smile has a value beyond anything a rich person could imagine.
True, some can’t survive in that atmosphere. They turn to drugs and alcohol, paid for by robbing others and from begging. That’s a form of self destruction, a long, slow death wish fulfilled by their own choice. They can’t make it, even among the community of the homeless, because they don’t believe they have anything of value to offer to others. The best some can do is to offer drugs or drink to others like them, giving themselves the same sense of self worth as the rich.
Imagining ourselves as suddenly without any source of income and sustenance is an exercise that each of us should indulge ourselves in once in a while. It can help us to be humble about who we are and appreciative of what we have. Most importantly, it can help us to calculate who in our lives loves us for ourselves and not for what we have or can give to them.
It could happen, that kind of life altering tragedy. A power outage that lasts for several weeks could cause us to turn to our baser instincts in our drive to survive. A pandemic disease of the type that medical science keeps warning us about, one that kills millions of people in a short period of time, could change everything we know about our civilization.
Staying in touch with reality, not the kind that industry wants us to believe but the kind we could use in case of some dire emergency, should be on the agenda of each one of us once in a while.
It tells us who we really are, what we stand for and who would stand with us if the world we know shattered.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to teach the fundamentals and basic skills of life to children so that they can cope with any emergency they face as adults.
Learn more at http://billallin.com