The things that money just can't buy
After reading Ed's post about Afluenza , I began thinking long and hard about what I have in my life that really matters to me. It's all very well keeping up with the Joneses, but at the end of the day it really doesn't mean anything. I was talking to a fireman a few months ago and he said that time after time, the things people run back into a blazing house for are not valuable (as far as other people are concerned). It's not the big-screen TV or the gold Rolex. No, it's the family photo albums, the teddy bear granny gave you 30 years ago, or the love letters from your sweetheart who is now your loving partner.
So really, what are the things in life that truly matter? What is it that we're all searching for, and that no amount of money can buy? I think I have a list. It may not be the list you would attribute to yourself, it may not even be complete as far as you're concerned. But I think most of us would like the things contained within my list. And there's not a shiny Porsche or a 4000 sq ft house anywhere on it.
I would be a fool not to put it first. I think at the end of the day, no amount of money and 'stuff' can fill the void left by a lack of real love. Let's be clear, I'm not talking about the kind of love you can get by flashing your BMW key fob at a bar in the hopes of trading money for a soul-mate (who'll leave you as soon as the money runs out). It's the love you get from your partner, when you look into his or her eyes and feel whole, safe and secure. It's the love of your child, hugging you for dear life and begging you not to go to work today. It's love that comes with no strings. Unconditional. Rich or poor. Good times and bad. If I were to measure my wealth by the love I get from my wife, my daughters and my close family, well, I'd be right up there with Mr. Gates.
Once again, as with many things on this list, you can buy a version of respect. Of course you can. The fawning that store-owners will do around wealthy people (remember the Pretty Woman scene?) could be taken as respect. Or the suck-ups in the office who'll do anything to get the attention of the big boss; that could also be considered as respect. But is it? It's a simple solve. Take away the money and power and is the respect still there? Sometimes it is. I've had some great bosses, with amazing hearts and awe-inspiring values. Rich or poor, I'd be tipping my head with respect. I've also had complete egotistical maniac bosses, surrounded by people with venom in their eyes and hate filling their souls. Take the power and money away from my last boss and there'd be people waiting in line to kick this guy where it hurts. Respect has to be earned, not bought. You actions define it, and your history with people is key. Be honest, be true, and treat others as you yourself would like to be treated. Be fair, be kind, be strong, be thoughtful and be inspiring. Respect will follow, whether you've got $6 billion in the bank, or $60.
I was once told that the friends you keep are a good indication of what kind of person you are. I took a look at my close circle of friends, and I was quite happy with what I saw. Funny, honest, caring, genuine people. The kind of people that make you happy to go to work every day. The folks that would give you their last dime if you needed it. I don't have a lot of friends. But every one of them is a great person with a kind heart. If you want, you can buy friendships as easily as you can buy a new suit. But those kind of friends will not stick by you through bad times. Most won't even stay through mediocre times. So, take a look at the people who really mean the world to you. Think of the people you'd want by you when times are a little rough. You'll see that those kind of friends are absolutely priceless.
I'm talking about true forgiveness here, not the kind you get for muttering a half-hearted apology under your breath (while giving a cheap gift you picked up at the drug store). Real forgiveness for something bad you've done can't be bought. You can't bribe someone to forget the past. I doubt even Donald Trump, with all his supposed billions, could buy the forgiveness of anyone he's truly wounded deeply. The only way to get it, if you're going to get it at all, is by earning it. By proving that you not only feel genuinely bad about what you did, but also that their forgiveness means everything to you. Try handing over $10,000 and saying "hey, I'm sorry I slept with your best friend and your mom...at the same time."
Yes, it's a cliche. I think that a severe lack of money can make you unhappy, but I'd say that no amount of money can make you genuinely happy. I've read stories of lottery winners who wished they'd never seen a dime. Their friends turned on them, they were harrassed day and night. How many rich celebs are in rehab or seeing therapists because they are unhappy? "More money, more problems" seems so often the case. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I wouldn't like a little more cash. But I'm already happy with my life. I love my family, my friends, my job. But if you're sat there thinking money will make everything great, and if you only had $1 million you'd be so much happier, I'm fairly positive that the short-lived elation will be replaced by depression soon enough.
I struggled with this one for a while. After all, I'd hate to stop parents putting their kids through piano classes, art classes, singing lessons and so on. But I genuinely believe that true talent cannot be bought, only improved upon. Take a look at the infamous Paris Hilton to see that no amount of money could make her a good singer or actress. And yet musicians, sports stars and actors around the world often emerge from very poor backgrounds. I myself have no real talent for grammar or prose (you simply need to read any of my posts to see that I am far from eloquent). But I do have a way of motivating people, which is why I landed a job in advertising. My wife is pursuing a career in photography because both myself and my friends saw in her a natural talent. An eye for a great picture. The technical stuff, that can be learned and paid for through classes. But raw talent...now that's not for sale at any price (sorry Mr. Federline, you can't pick it up at WalMart on special).
Obviously no-one can live forever. But people try and live on through art, literature, music and other such pursuits. Sure, you can erect a giant statue of yourself or buy a whole bunch of buildings (Mr. Trump is constantly trying to buy his way into the history books). But in the end, it's not money but our actions that can get us ever-lasting life. The great thinkers and musicians of our time did not purchase a ticket to fame...they earned it. From Einstein to The Beatles, Archimedes to Mozart, real immortality comes not from a big pile of gold but huge pile of talent and perseverence.
I saved the biggest till last. Peace cannot come from a fat wallet or bank vault. Real peace comes from ideas. Talking, thinking, and being empathetic and understanding every single day can bring about more peace than any money could ever buy. If we were all just a little more tolerant of other people, a little more forgiving and a little less obsessed with the mighty dollar, we may just see that money really isn't what life is all about. It's about loving your neighbor, caring for your family and telling your friends how much they mean to you. It's not going to solve world hunger immediately, it's not going to put an end to the war in Iraq. But at the end of the day, if we could all just see that we're not all that different and our petty squabbles are just that, then maybe we could move an inch closer to Nirvana here on Earth.
I know this whole post has made me wide open to all sorts of comments and criticism, but I'll take it all in my stride. Is it so bad to want things to be better? And is it really so bad to say that the biggest and best things in your life don't have to cost you a penny? Now that's what living large on a small budget is all about my friends. Peace out.