(Opinion Page column published in Khaleej Times dated 31 Jan, 2022)
Like many people in this world, I have had an ambivalent attitude towards money; an approach that wavers between the old belief that money is the root cause of all evil and a logical understanding that money practically makes the world go around. Even today, I flinch at advertisements and advice that offer a way to make a quick buck and at the same time, slaver at reports of people having won the weekly lottery.
Our relationship with wealth has always been a tricky one and it has hugely influenced the way we conducted our lives. ‘Is wealth good or bad?’ is a question that we all may have asked at some point of time or the other.
Creating wealth that facilitates a good life is what drives most of all human endeavours. Much of our happiness is derived from our comforts and often there is no limit set to our affluent dreams. We tirelessly keep pushing our goal posts without knowing how far the ground stretches, without even sparing a thought to the purpose behind it all. Setting material goals is certainly essential for us to stay robust in this game of life but knowing how far we must push ourselves and to what end might probably help us immensely in managing the inner turmoil that we face in our gold rush.
Time and again, I come across news stories about the random acts of benevolence by a leading Gulf-based tycoon from Kerala, who dishes out compassion so copiously to strangers in need that it makes me look at wealth in a whole new perspective. His deeds are not planned philanthropy designed to enhance a rich man’s profile, but they are impromptu decisions made by a magnanimous heart to make a difference to another man’s life.
The true power of wealth is realized only when it leaves our immediate precincts and it waters the parched land of the other man. If I have desired for money in excess, it is for this privilege of being able to dispense it at will to struggling hands in my vicinity.
Looking back, life has always provided me with enough, but never an excess. Conservative living has been the mode ever since I remember, and the trials of the pandemic years have only made money dearer to me. As I clawed my way back after being pushed off the cliff suddenly and began to cobble things back, I once again reset my priorities; of knowing how much we need to sail smoothly and of setting our boundaries and goals accordingly.
Once we had set the criteria for what entails a decent living, it was not difficult to put a figure to how much we must strive for. The basic essentials apart, we need small indulgences to keep feelings of deprivation at bay, and I see no rationale in denying us a few good things if the winds are blowing in our favour. If tough times demand austerity, then better times must provide reasonable pleasures too, for I do not advocate compulsive abstinence in life. We don’t need to be monks, nor do we need to own a Ferrari.
The idealists may contend that one could be generous even without being affluent, that sparing a penny when in dearth is the ultimate show of genuine charity. But let us face the truth - it is not easy to practice self-sacrifice in these times when we are fighting for our own survival. It is good to be ideal, but it is impractical. Life is all about knowing the difference between the utopian and the pragmatic confines of our material world.
I am still hiking my way up from the crunch phase, but I now clearly see the difference between enough and excess. Enough for our use and excess for others’. Someday, if there will be a windfall in my life, I know that my heart will open its floodgates. For this, I shall covet wealth. Money is now an endearing word to me owing to the infinite opportunities it might give to help people in need, which currently I am constrained to do, thanks to the bills waiting.
Hankering after money for purely selfish needs is what probably made it an evil in the eyes of old orthodoxy, and notions of extreme selflessness reduced it to being a futile thing. By slightly tweaking its purpose and by separating our needs from our extravagances, we might just be able to give money its due credit and true respect. Somewhere between avarice and altruism is a neutral zone where we can strike an amicable deal with the timeless allure of the lucre.