How do we define wealth? Is it as simple as a measurement of net worth at the bottom of a personal or corporate balance sheet? When I think of wealth, I think of abundance. An abundance of money, however nice that might be, would not be terribly meaningful without health, family, friends, wisdom, faith, etc. Rabbi Noah Weinberg, of blessed memory, once asked me if I would sell my two children for $5 million each. Given that they were middle school aged boys at the time, I had to give this a moment of thought. In the end I had to say no, of course. He then looked at me with a smile and said we “have now established that you are worth more than $10 million and we have just started.”
As a lawyer and financial advisor, I have spent most of my adult life involved with money and participated in an accelerating social evolution in the United States in which money and monetary wealth has become the ultimate definer of an abundant life. Look at any form of media and you will see endless advertisements selling services and products related to the business of wealth. We have entire cable networks dedicated to showing tours of homes, automobiles, food, and travel that only an incredibly small fraction of the population could even dream of affording. There are reality TV shows on the lives of people who are supposedly interesting because they are rich (and use their wealth to fund a seemingly endless amount of plastic surgery). We now have candidates for President of the United States asserting that their wealth is, in and of itself, evidence of competence and a qualification to lead.
Not surprising this has led to a legitimate focus on wealth inequality nationally and in the world as a whole. This is an important issue and a cause for concern, but would wealth distribution really make society better? Do not get me wrong, the current level of wealth and income inequality is not healthy, but implicit in the argument over this issue is a very materialistic assumption: Money is the ultimate measure of social value and abundant life. Materialism is winning. We have more stuff than ever before, but we feel more want, deprivation, and exploitation as a society.
Maybe the start of a solution is definitional. What do we mean by wealth? I would submit that wealth is far more than money and that down deep most of us (not all) know that. We have just bought into the illusion that wealth is purely monetary and we all, to some extent, suffer as a result. Wealth does, of course, involve money, but it also involves:
- Family, friends and relationships. What scares us more poverty or loneliness? When I speak to people about their fears of poverty, it is amazing how many people equate poverty with loneliness.
- Knowledge, wisdom, and experience. Over the course of our lives we learn and grow from what we experience. Ask any elderly person what they cherish most and it will almost always be their life experience as reflected in their memories. What they yearn for most is the ability to experience more than their bodies will currently allow.
- Health. Our bodies may be the physical containers of our souls, but when the body suffers it is very difficult to maintain a feeling of wealth and abundance.
- Talents and Skills. All of us have talents and skills. Some talents lead to making money, others give us pleasure and meaning. If we are fortunate enough to find a way to mesh what gives us meaning with making a living, we attain a true sense of wealth and abundance.
- Faith. Faith is simply a commitment to something beyond you. Some may have faith in God, others faith in the universe or science, or the inherent goodness of man or society. The notion that you are connected to something bigger and that is not all about us as individuals may be one of the greatest sources of a sense of abundance.
This list is not meant to be exclusive, it just happens to be mine at this moment. I would love to hear how you define wealth.
In the spring of 2013, I experienced a health scare that cost me my career as a partner in a prominent law firm. During the several month period when I was not sure if I would ever recover enough to be “useful” again, I came face to face with the fact that I measured my wealth and value based on how many dollars I could make and what a very fragile ledge of self-worth I was standing on. It took some time to realize that I had been blessed with so much that could not be measured in dollars and cents. That is why I founded Soul of Wealth, www.soulofwealth.com. By making decisions about our businesses, charities, and families from a place of true abundance that goes beyond money, maybe we can live more abundant lives and improve our families, communities, and the world.