Carole P. Roman invited a long list of people to write on this question after she was invited to do so. It’s one of those chain stories that make the rounds here. Very well . . .
I suppose most of us think, dream, or otherwise fantasize about fabulous wealth from time to time. Many of my colleagues have waxed rhapsodic about what they would do if they won the lottery or otherwise struck it rich. In the main, their fantasies center around acquiring dream possessions. And yes, being an amateur astronomer, I sometimes visualize a really nice telescope out in the middle of nowhere, far from light pollution.
But too much indulgence tends not to be good for a person. I’ve spent most of my adult life balanced on the knife’s edge between self-sufficiency and bankruptcy. I’ve done okay, overall, but I’ve seldom had money to burn. That tightrope walk taught me that life isn’t about what you can get for yourself. It’s about what you do with what you have.
I’ve also benefited from some good influences. One was my maternal grandfather who, whenever asked what he wanted for his birthday or Christmas, replied, “Oh, you don’t have to get me anything.” He and my grandmother lived in the same house from well before I was born until the time they passed away. Very little ever changed there, although once when I was young they had a room added on. The same was true of my paternal grandparents. None of them needed more than they already had. They taught me that family was far more important than possessions.
The Baha’i Faith, which I discovered over 35 years ago, also has had a profound influence on my view of material wealth. One of the most brilliant examples I know of its teachings took place on a train over a century ago.
In 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Baha traveled through the United States and Canada, visiting the infant Baha’i communities of North America and speaking before a wide variety of groups. The train provided the best long-distance mode of transportation in those days, but long trips planted in coach seats could be pretty uncomfortable, and by then ‘Abdu’l-Baha was in his late 60’s and not always in the best of health. His companions urged him to spend the extra money for a Pullman berth so he could sleep lying down. But every time they suggested it, he replied, “Adversity is good for the soul.”
Finally, they gave up. His legendary frugality had obviously won out. But on the day they didn’t pester him about it, he told them to spend the money on Pullman berths for everyone. He then explained to their stunned faces, “Too much adversity isn’t good!”
Balance, balance. We ought not to be spendthrifts, but neither should we be ascetics. Baha’u’llah, the Founder of our religion, wrote:
Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him. Eat ye, O people, of the good things which God hath allowed you, and deprive not yourselves from His wondrous bounties. Render thanks and praise unto Him, and be of them that are truly thankful.
(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, CXXVIII, p. 276)
It’s not wealth as such that harms us. The old saw about money being the root of all evil is a misquote. Not money; the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10). If we treat our wealth as a trust given to us by our Creator, we can’t go too far wrong. Become more attached to wealth than its Source, and we go very wrong. Baha’u’llah counsels us to earn a living by our calling and to expend our wealth on our family and the poor. Indeed, the greater our wealth, the greater our responsibility to the poor:
O ye rich ones on Earth! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.
(Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, Persian 54)
So with that for background, how would I spend fabulous wealth in the unlikely event it falls into my lap? Well . . .
- Pay off my debts.
- Buy a nice house for my wife and I to spend our remaining years in. Nothing huge, nothing flashy, just a comfortable place to live out our old age.
- Figure out how to discharge my God-given responsibilities to the poor.
- Retire from software development. Spend my remaining years writing. Maybe start a company I have an idea for, one that has the potential to unite indie authors and readers.
- And maybe, just maybe, get that nice telescope.
But really, You don’t need to get me anything.