An up-ending, like a global pandemic, is a good time for a reboot of some of our less admirable social concepts. An opportunity like this doesn’t come around very often so we should use it wisely. Personally, I think the concept of wealth is a prime candidate for a makeover. It has drifted into creepy territory.
Our modern day idea of wealth is narrow focus. It is the wealth of the Unicorns of Silicon Valley, where a fountain of money is the overnight jackpot of ambition. Where the attainment of wealth is born with the slick luck of a gambler: right idea and right timing — become a billionaire. From college dropout, to glam cover-star of Fortune, Venture, and Business Weekly. All in a blink of an eye.
Even if that billion dollar idea is not in the cards for you, there might still be a way. We, the people, can dream of the stardom of Youtube, or maybe the endless and effortless flow of monthly online income. It’s easy. It’s the lottery, only sexier. Wealth, as conceived of by a society with the shortest attention span in history.
More importantly, we could work on our own wealth, our well-being, with a clearer eye. The ambition to be wealthy wouldn’t be about a bank account score, but of so much more.
It feels all wrong. Wealth should be more than a lottery prize; it should have a meaning with more soul, more gravitas. It’s attainment should count for something. It should be an accomplishment one could actually take pride in. And it shouldn’t be the private domain of the one percent of the one percent of the one percent. We can just use the word greed for that crowd. I think we should reclaim the word wealth, and make it an aspiration with more value.
Wealth in the Past (and Future?)
If we look past our disintegrating culture, and peek into the past, we will learn that wealth used to mean something quite different. Wealth was closer to ‘well-being’ and it a close relation to the word health — siblings in origin. Fascinating. Wealth along these lines is much more interesting: it’s not financial power, not happiness, not confidence, not social connections, not family, not health, no, not any one of these things, but rather, all of them. That’s more like it.
In this richer (sigh) concept of wealth (still to be fully reconceived, of course), we could all participate. Better yet, we could all participate without feeling dirty about the striving toward it. It wouldn’t be enough for us to frantically try and leverage an impossible number of zeros into our bank account. A person would need to assemble a much wider mix of life assets. Attaining and balancing all these things, even when competing and conflicting with each other, would be the hard work of our life. Probably, it would end up being the work of a lifetime, more of a journey than a destination.
With such a word, in such a world, we could come to respect people of wealth. We could admire their accomplishments, and yes, fortune too. More importantly, we could work on our own wealth, our well-being, with a clearer eye. The ambition to be wealthy wouldn’t be about a bank account score, but of so much more. It would be a path of well-being, for ourselves, now and in the future; for those under our care; and for those that we care about. That’s the wealth we should be striving for.