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. 

On Character

Before we show up in this world, we get to have a final inspection by Mother or Father Nature, whoever is available.

As I lie there in the long line of those about to be born, Father Nature is working one line, Mother Nature the other.

Today, for some reason, the lines are moving slowly. There are large screens overhead with instructions which all babies are reading. Once we are launched, we’re told, we will repress all these memories and even forget how to read and talk and will have to start again from scratch.

Because of the slow line, both Mother and Father Nature have extra time and they’re going up to some individual babies and chatting with them.

I get to have Father Nature approach me. Cool.

He’s got a white beard and has no hair on top of his head. Only years later, when I recalled this unique conversation in a dream, did I realize that Father Nature had been of African origin.

Father Nature: Okay, little fellow, you’re about to launch. Know that we’ve given you some things and not others. We try to be fair but we also want diversity, so some people end up with more, some with less. Keep in mind that each of you is an experiment. We don’t know what the outcome will be because we don’t know the circumstances you’ll have to deal with, and Mother Nature and I can’t be everywhere. I know the myth is that we are everywhere but, no, not possible.

Me: So what did you give me?

Father Nature: You’ll discover it as you go along in your journey, that’s part of the fun.

Me: Can you give me any hints?

Father Nature: Well… I suppose I could.

(He thinks about it for a moment)

There are many talents to have… to be good mechanically, with numbers, with words, the imagination, musically, performing, painting, understanding people, telling others what to do, being good in business, cooking, being beautiful, sexy… anything. But as we see it… Mother Nature and I agree on this… we’ve had this conversation many times… the most important thing is to have strength of character.

Me: Strength of character… hmm… whatever that is, you can’t just give it to me now?

Father Nature: No.

Me: Why not?

Father Nature: We haven’t come up with the right formula. How many people to be made strong, how many to be made weak… the political considerations make it complicated, but we keep working on it.

Me: From what you’re saying, I’d rather have a strong character than a weak one.

Father Nature: Of course. But there’s hope. Even if you don’t start out with a strong character, you can build one as you go along. Just don’t be envious of those who do have a strong character, instead, worry about building your own.

Me: How do you do that?

Father Nature: Like I said, there’s no precise formula. What we’ve discovered so far is that to have strength of character you have to be able to set boundaries.

Me: Boundaries?

Father Nature: Yes… the sense that you are what you are, and you always have a right to be who you are – so long as you don’t hurt others – and that you’re able to make it stick. By the way, no one has a right to hurt you, either. Ever.

Me:  I like that. I suppose I’ll learn about the details very soon.

Father Nature: You’ll come across people who will want to impose their will on you, but just hang tight. Stand your ground. Don’t give in. If you do, there ought to be a very good reason for it and it shouldn’t be for long. But you’ll figure it out.

Me: You won’t be around to consult?

Father Nature: Afraid not. We’re so busy as you can see.

Me: I appreciate you taking the time today. Before launch.

Father Nature: You’re welcome.

The line starts moving again and Father Nature chooses to walk alongside me. That is nice.

Father Nature:  There’s another thing… keep improving yourself… it never stops… always learning… about the world… about yourself. If you make that commitment, then you’ll be okay.

The specially padded conveyor belt where I lie has kept chugging along but only now do I see the Exit sign up ahead. Distracted talking with Father Nature I hadn’t paid attention. An overhead voice comes on.

Overhead Voice: ‘You will be leaving this station and entering the world as it is now. You will forget everything that has happened here today, the language you’re speaking, everything, and will have to start learning anew. Good luck.’

Then I felt a little pat on my head. It was Father Nature smiling at me. And I felt a sensation that only later would come to understand as being deep sadness. Father Nature drew close and spoke in a whisper.

Father Nature: Just keep a dialogue with yourself, learn to dream, and you’ll learn how to be strong and free.

And he gave me an even bigger smile. I was almost at the Exit sign but the line stopped again and Father Nature quickly returned to my side and leaned in.

Father Nature: Take chances! You’ll never know who you are if you don’t take chances. Stick your neck out!


A strong force pulled on me and sucked me out. I was launched into the world.

It felt like I had just come out of a long, wet canal and suddenly I see two people with masks and gowns and a bright lamp overhead that made me squint but they seem relieved I’d made it through and a moment later they cut a long, bloody cord sticking out of my belly and then they wrap me in a cozy warm blanket and they show me to a person I’d never seen but was glad to see me. She would be my mom. Wow.

I cried a happy cry.

Oscar Valdes is the author of Psychiatrist for A Nation. Available on Amazon