Money and Freedom. The Price to Pay

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Money doesn’t guarantee freedom.

We have examples of people who, having money, go on to surrender their lives to absurd causes.

To mind come two wealthy people, one a man, another a woman, who went on to let sexual perversions destroy their lives. They used their ample means to corrupt others as they indulged their perversions.

I think, too, of a man who’d made a fortune in internet security and then went off to commit a series of acts that diminished his existence.

Years ago, a friend told me the story of a person who was not doing much with his life, waiting for his father – a famous writer – to die so he would inherit the wealth. Was he benefitting from the promise of wealth? No. He was wasting his life by not exploring his personal possibilities.

And in the last few days, the case of a real estate heir has been in the news, after being found guilty of the murder of a former friend. Money didn’t improve his judgment.

The examples abound.

Money is a wonderful source of solace and comfort and a strong incentive to action and creation, but when an inner compass is lacking, then money may magnify the person’s flaws.

The inner compass which helps guide a person cannot be bequeathed. Cannot be handed over like a book. Each person has to acquire it, earn it by the discovery and understanding of what feelings and thoughts form our psychic universe.

Some wealthy people have known this.

Years ago, I read that the American oil tycoon, JP Getty, had bequeathed a certain amount of his money to his children and no more. The bulk of his wealth was to go to the support of the arts – and so it did, over the years multiplying and enlightening the minds of many.

One of our present richest investors, early on apportioned some of his wealth to his children, the rest to be given to philanthropy. From what I read in a book written by one of his children, the investor had made clear to his heirs that the amounts he was distributing would be all they would be getting, ‘so get out there and find a way to make a life for yourselves’.

Something about the struggle to affirm oneself is sidestepped when the reward is given freely.

Such struggle for personal affirmation is eminently personal, different for each one of us.

The person may have had wonderful parents, supportive or indifferent parents, no parents at all or abusive ones, but still the battle has to be fought, for it is the battle for our sense of personal worth, which when well fought reveals us the answers.

What is my power?

Where does it come from?

How do I nurture it so I may enlarge it?

To not accept the challenge is an act of emotional and intellectual self betrayal.

Each one of us has a certain power – the one that nature has endowed us with. Recognizing and pursuing it is every person’s task. In some instances such power shines brightly from the start and so the path is clear. But in many cases it is not easily detected and one has to choose from affinities or leanings and try each one out in the effort to find which one works best.

The process may be tricky, often consuming, sometimes taking us down the wrong road. But it is all part of the essential exploration of the self in the never ending task to answer the question, ‘what makes us stronger and wiser?’

If you find an answer to that question, you have found a key to a good life. I say ‘a’ key and not ‘the’ key because even with that key we can end up wasting our time.

Whatever we wish to try in earnest we need to devote time to. Sustained effort is the necessary ingredient. Which implies defying a measure of uncertainty, as well as recognizing that others will have more than we have and so be it. 

But we can live with that notion, so long as we never give up on improving ourselves.

Can money improve our ability to relate to others? No.

It can, however, buy us distance from others which may translate into comfort. But such distance has time limited benefits and can be illusory. Nothing ought to spare us the struggle to find out who we really are.

That knowledge comes from relentless self inquiry and testing ourselves in the world.

If money, whether acquired by our own efforts or inherited, is getting us into a bubble, then we must step out of it.

Not long ago a famous movie industry person was found guilty of repeatedly abusing women. Whatever his demons, he had ceased to confront them. The bubble, which wealth had facilitated for him, kept him from seeing himself in the mirror of life, then kept him from seeing how his freedom was escaping his grasp. Intoxicated with his authority, he repeatedly missed that those who came to him were doing so in search of their own power. With each failure to acknowledge others, freedom left him.

And he lost it all.

He had thought that his money shielded him, and that the struggle for his existence was over. It never is.

Every day, we ought to keep saying to ourselves, ‘this is my power, I have this, and I commit to furthering its growth through my sustained efforts. And my own power is enhanced by recognizing and respecting that of others.’

Powers so found are not selfish powers but generous instead, fully aware of all that has gone into recognizing, nurturing and growing them.

In sharing them, such powers are enlarged.

The sum of individual powers creates enormous collective powers.

We need only look around us to remind ourselves that the foundations upon which we stand are the result of the collective effort of mankind. The computer on which I write this. The home I inhabit. The clothes I wear. The blood test I had the other day. The miracle of CoVid vaccines. The train I ride.

Every day life challenges our sense of personal freedom. And it is up to us to avoid or confront, to evade or affirm, to grow or regress. 

Every day.

When we confront life’s challenges, we expand ourselves, when we retreat we contract.  

A few days ago I read of a man in a subway train attempting to rape a woman as others stood by without intervening.

How could that be?

Perhaps the assailant was very strong and the witnesses feared the man would turn on them and injure or kill them. But they forgot what powers they did have. They forgot that if an individual effort might not be deemed sufficient by itself, then the sum of the efforts of all witnessing the act may well be. But fear had paralyzed them. And they stood by as the man continued to injure the woman.

What could have been done by the frightened and shocked bystanders?

Affirm their individual powers and hope it engaged that of the others.

Speak! Shout! Scream in anger and fury at what is happening. Those are all expressions of power. Look the assailant in the eye and say ‘Stop! Stop now! You are hurting another human being and you must stop!’

And perhaps such action might have stopped the assailant, or if not then sparked the rage of the witnesses who could then collectively have devised other actions to stop the harm being done.

Anything but silence.

Would each of those who stood quietly, not have preferred that witnesses screamed in their behalf if they, in turn, had been the victims?

Of course.

Anything but silence.

Each person’s voice matters.

Everyone has some power.

Freedom has a price.

We must be willing to pay it every day for it is always being challenged.

Every day.

Oscar Valdes.      Oscarvaldes.net. 

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