Some Advice on Wealth
The other day I was taking a stroll through our little patch of land; a newly grown forest we planted in winter. It’s a somewhat melancholic feeling to understand that these young alders, ashes, cherries, and oaks will easily outlive us. What we planted here is the possibility of oxygen, wood, food, and shadow for a future generation.
One could easily argue that trees are the most important and advanced technology earth has ever designed. Their use is so diverse, their workings so complex. Also, if properly managed, they form an endless, renewable source of energy.
To me, the tree, with its branches spreading in all directions, symbolizes a perpetual possibility for growth and wisdom. The roots firmly in the ground, in connection with the other plants, symbolize locality and community.
Still, the tree doesn’t care about my symbolizing. Neither about our daily hustles and bustles. The tree stands still, fierce in its simplicity.
It made me wonder about this carefree, contemplative way of living. Wouldn’t it be good to minimize our actions? Wouldn’t it be better to do less instead? And while we’re at it, wouldn’t it be better to possess less?
What is the good life?
When pondering the good life, we get carried away in exuberant daydreams about possessions and a life full of luxuries. We think that this kind of life will make it easier or at least more comfortable. Money then, seems like the inevitable solution to all of our problems.
In our minds, money is the key to success. It is connected to fame and status and is seen as the gateway that leads towards paradise.
This is the reason, I guess, why platforms like Medium and the like are filled with stories about moneymaking and success. They are playing on people’s (sub)conscious focus on generating income and status. These are clickbait writings, nevertheless.
We cannot blame people that they love to dream. We cannot blame them for chasing the good life. Yet — like with all modern devices — sometimes you need to update your mind about how this good life should look like.
Why are we so obsessed with money?
Money is nothing more than a means used to facilitate transactions. At least, that’s the reason why it was invented in the first place. Over time, money has evolved to something quite different. It has become a political weapon that splits society in two. That’s the (very basic) answer to the question of why the richest 1 percent on earth own twice as much as the bottom 90 percent.
Still, we have to understand that the value of money only exists because we all believe it exists. It’s a globally shared belief system. An illusion that has become reality.
The truth is: the value of money is only in our minds.
Eventually, money is a piece of paper. Or even worse, a digital number floating somewhere around in cyberspace.
We would be better of believing in trees.
A world that worships money tends to put numbers on everything. For example, all the little trees in my little forest will be worth a lot once they matured. As the prices of timber keep rising, trees seem to promise a very dependable investment. From that perspective, the forest turns into a plantation.
This kind of thinking is called ‘sentimental capitalism’. It’s the idea that everything — ranging from nature, the individual, or local — can be valued in monetary terms. Everything has a price. And so, everything exists to serve our economy and the free market. If we believe this hard enough the future will be bright and shiny. Yes, the future will be good. Or so we are told.
Living in the now
This dream of success is a trap that locks us into futuristic, wishful thinking. We believe that everything has to be measured by the monetary value it might gain. Everything has to be an investment. And everything has to make a profit. And all of this will happen in some distant, nonexistent future.
Alas, what we forget is to live in the now.
And so, we keep on running. But what we should do is standing still. Indeed, just like the tree.
The promise of doing something good in a distant future won’t get us anywhere. We’ll have to do it now. And the best and easiest way to do this is to do less.
By reducing our actions and thus reducing our impact on the earth, we have the simplest and most efficient tool available to help the environment. More money and possessions won’t solve that issue. Neither is it a problem that can be solved through politics and big corporations.
It’s up to us to act. Or better: It’s up to us not to act.
“A change of heart or of values without practice is only another pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life.” (Wendell Berry, The Total Economy)
Be more like a tree
So, let’s be more like the tree: firmly and locally rooted, slowly and steadily growing, connected to our surroundings and community.
In that same spirit, I guess I’ll just keep tending to my small patch of dirt. I’ll be sitting here pondering life and watching my little forest grow. Eventually, the forest and I will grow old together. The forest will not make me rich, but a richer person I will be. That’s for sure.