I’m not a rich man it can be said quite assuredly. Nor however am I a poor man. Yet, I do suppose this very much depends on which tool are you measuring such things. For purposes of this piece at least I mean monetarily. I’m not rolling in the deep, nor am I rolling in the gutter. At least as far as this particular country is concerned anyway. Anytime I find myself wanting more, or patting myself on the back because of what I’ve achieved already I recite aloud, or in my head, one of the passages from Disiderata:
“If you compare yourself with others you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself.”
This helps me a little. Yet then sometimes you ponder whether or not you’re doing it right. You know, life and all that. Are you making the most of it; proving your worth; doing what should be done with your time. Hearing somewhere in the back of your musical mind the lyrics of Neil Young singing “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away”. In those cases I often repeat a little story I read somewhere, I’m sure it’s nothing like the way I read it originally, like a game of Chinese whispers for one relayed to passers by I have repeated it so often it’s become a little bit of my own. However it went originally I like the analogy; something along the lines of,
“For a clam to bring forth a pearl it must be tainted early with a grain of sand. The grain irritates it over many years, tormenting it, teasing it’s fleshy tongue, surely driving it to near madness. Yet it produces the pearl. The other clams that have had no great torment however are just clams.”
And I think, I was raised well, I had a loving mother and father, sure they had a horrible divorce later in life, but is that a grain of sand? The grain of sand which would/could turn into a pearl? I doubt it. Yet one must persist, and do what one can regardless of delusions of greatness, which in itself is a distraction. As more often than not our understanding of greatness is created for us, via mass media and formal education greatness and the illusion of it are a part of our social construct and conditioning, and sadly all too often that understanding, or perception of what it means to have accomplished something, to be great relies heavily on cash flow and outward image.
So, regardless of sand, or comparisons to greater or lesser persons, I am still struck and dumbfounded by our societies collective drive to seek and pursue greater monetary means as if it will somehow land them on top. As if once they obtain enough money they’ll finally be truly happy. Often it is chased at all cost, sacrificing not only kin and kind, but, as our current predicament would certainly have it, the very earth upon which we dwell. Why is this?! We remember Mohandas K Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, the people whom have inspired millions with their selflessness. We even hold them on high. I was afforded the privilege recently of visiting Gandhi’s tomb last year, on just an ordinary day, a Tuesday I believe, a little after lunch, and it was swarming with people from all over the world. He died over sixty years ago and yet the very idea of what he stood for is growing stronger all the time.
So I want to ask a question, now before I do, don’t cheat, don’t run to google to ask, at least not immediately anyway. I want to ask you if you know who was the richest man or woman in 1948, the year of Gandhi’s death? It’s ok if you don’t know, that ‘s the point of the question. Gandhi died with not much else but his cane, his spectacles and his loin cloth. It was his ideas, his selfless insistence that made him great, not how much he earned, or made whilst on the planet. In the words of a musician I have a particular fondness for Ben Harper:
“Mr. when you’re rattling on heaven’s gate, let me tell you Mr. by then it is too late. Cause Mr. when you get there they don’t ask how much you saved all they’ll want to know, Mr. is what you gave.”
Our modern society produces inequality unceasingly (there is today more material inequality in our capitalist, military industrialist-complex, than any other form of society), while our leaders are proclaiming equality and liberty and freedom as inalienable rights of all humans. This sickness that pervades our society has been called many things, the people responsible for it also called many things. When it first began to rear it’s abhorrent head, the Scotts called it “commercial society”; for the great German philosopher Hegel, it was the “end of history”; for Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville it was the more familiar, “democracy”. Karl Marx and others put it to what they called the bourgeoisie.
Whatever we call them, or it, I feel we needn’t afford it too greater concern. In fact we should openly dismiss and even laugh in the face of those pursuing solely monetary ends. They are insignificant, childish, impudent, lame and brashly ferocious at the same time. Their time will pass. It must. There will come a time when we all realise the horrendous punch line in that poster you see about of the beautiful original inhabitant of what is now called North America with the lines:
“When the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned, and the last fish dead, we will discover that we can’t eat money…”
We needn’t get to this point. We can rest easy knowing that if we are indeed seeking greatness, or more simply and humbly, greatness within ourselves the best thing we can do is, as the phrase oft repeat, be the change we wish to see in the world. As for the Bourgeoisie, the words of Francois Furet should help us sort them out a little:
“a king is infinitely greater than his person, aristocrats owe their prestige to a post more distant than they, socialists preach struggle for a world beyond their lifetime. But the wealthy are merely what they are, rich, and that is all.”