The Wealth of Beings

Sahara Desert, Morocco, 2014.

Sahara Desert, Morocco, 2014.

How would you define a wealthy man?

I have grown up in a place where a wealthy person, or country, is conventionally defined as one with plentiful riches of the monetary kind. One who has an abundance of financial resources, thus being able to afford a lavish lifestyle sated with the most opulent in accommodation choices, the most modish in transportation options, and the latest in technological gadgets. These are deemed to be indications of a person’s wealth, status, and by debatable extension, a person’s intrinsic value. Such a concept is also extrapolated for countries, where the wealth of a nation is reflected in economic indicators such as its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, the strength of its currency, and the ilk.

The laws of philanthropy stipulate that the flow of funds and resources should be from the wealthy to the impoverished. The role of a donor is thus naturally assumed by the party accorded with the elevated status of being the wealthier one, in comparison to the beneficiary. In the same vein, the archetypal philanthropist is seen as one with the pecuniary advantage, a characteristic delineating one’s capacity to give. There are countless examples that illustrate this – a prosperous man offering money to an impecunious one on the street, or an affluent country giving development aid to a lower-income one.

It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.

– Sigmund Freud

Yet, on what basis do we differentiate the impoverished from the wealthy?

Should poverty be perceived solely as a lack of financial resources, in isolation? Should poverty be ascribed only to those in developing markets, struggling to make ends meet? Should poverty not be applicable, too, to the white-collar workers scrambling to their cubicles each day, struggling to cope with their hectic schedules that never seem to abate? Is a poverty of time not poverty as well? Is a country whose economic mandate takes such paramount precedence such that its citizens’ choices in terms of the possible pathways to success are so limited in scope not impoverished, too? Is it tenable to define an individual’s capacity to give as a function of one’s economic prosperity?

When I left New York City for the backstreets of Japan, I figured I’d be growing poorer in terms of money, amusements, social life, and obvious prospects, but I’d be richer in what I prize most: days and hours.

– Pico Iyer

Were we to free ourselves from the conventional definition of what poverty entails and begin to question these underlying premises, only then might we gradually come to identify – in our own terms – the pauper from the prince.

– Agnes Chew


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