What do we mean by “Rich?”

This week’s edition of BRW is another of
its so called ‘Flagship editions’. These editions invariable involve a list of
the top so many of such and such. It was a landmark when they produced the first BRW
1000
list of the top 1000 companies in Australia. However, I’m getting
a bit tired of what seems like every month they produce a new list of the "top"
whatever. This time it is the Rich
200
. A list of Australia’s wealthiest people.

It made me wonder what we mean by "rich" and why it matters to us so much?

My current book is Phillip Yancey’s volume Soul
Survivor
(How my faith survived the Church.). A book I highly recommend
– even if you are not interested in the concept of faith. Yancey writes about
his journey of faith by reviewing the lessons he learned from the lives of people
he has either met or he experienced through what they wrote or what was written
about them. Chapters cover people such as Martin
Luther King Jnr.
, Leo
Tolstoy
, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Mahatma
Gandhi
and C.
Everett Koop
.

In each case, Yancey both praises the contribution each made and clearly portrays
each person’s failures, complexities and personal dilemmas.

While I have been rivetted by each chapter, the BRW Rich 200 made me think
of Gandhi. Here was a man who held no formal office, wore only a rough hand
woven loin cloth and possessed only what he carried with him. Yet Gandhi almost
certainly procurred the independence of the world’s second most populous nation
and profoundly influenced not only India, but the United States (through his
influence on King) and other parts of the world. Could any of us imagine how
different the world would be today if Gandhi had never lived? In one hundred
years will Kerry or James Packer even be remembered? Probably by some. Will
anyone regard their legacy as profoundly good for the world?

Gandhi’s life challenges almost all of what we stand for in the West. When
we compare our wealth with others we fret not that we are not wealthy, but
that we are not as wealthy as someone else.

Like Yancey, I found Gandhi’s life challenging. I like my gadgets. I write
this on an Apple MacBook Pro 17 which
goes with me everywhere and an iPod. I have a mobile phone, a NextG modem
which enables me to connect to the internet anywhere I am. I live a 200m2
home and drive a new car. There a five computers in my house. I haven’t even
begun to describe the extent of my posessions. Am I happier than Gandhi? Do
I feel more fulfilled? I can’t imagine doing what Gandhi did giving up posession
after posession and living more and more simply. Living simply itself appeals
to me, but I can’t imagine myself taking even one hundreth of the steps Gandhi
took to this end.

This challenges me and I don’t know the answer to this as a personal dilemma.
However reading about Gandhi has brought home to me that acquiring more and
more wealth is not going to make me happier. It has caused me to re-examine
my personal and business goals. It has led me to think once more about how
I set my fees. I don’t know where this will lead me. This could sound trite
and self serving but I hope it doesn’t – "all I can say is that I am on my
own Spiral Path."

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