I have spilled more than a little bit of virtual ink on the importance of engaging in discussion even with those you strongly disagree with. My primary concern has been to encourage a more civil discourse but there is another benefit that might be even more important: the ability to evolve our own ideas. Sometimes this means shifting in the direction of the person or people you are talking with. Other times it might mean reaffirming your own stance or even drifting further away, not out of spite, but because you have been shown a new angle from which to perceive the issue.
Such was the case a week or two ago after a long talk with an old acquaintance. I generally do not like talking with Eric. Though I am by no means an educational snob, he believes that reading a few books, without any careful critique of said books or education in the fields they are written on, gives him special insight beyond those around him. He is so full of himself he makes me look positively humble, which if you know me in person you realize this means he needs to spend pretty much every iota of energy available into making himself an insufferable know-it-all. That said, in a long(ish) dialogue regarding Occupy Wall Street he helped me to see an angle of the problems in our society from a renewed perspective.
The conversation eventually turned, as these things often do, to a discussion of regulation and of the central banking system. Eric loathes any central banking system and blames the system itself, not the institutions or individuals set over to steward it, for the woes of the world. He blames the monetization of wealth for the economy collapsing as it has. Wealth, he explained, was once measured by the actual property you own, rather than how many pieces of paper you had access to. Leaving aside that the genie is out of the bottle and it would be very difficult to put it back in, or the benefits to all that monetization of wealth provides, I found myself meditating on the importance of any kind of wealth.
What does it do? It allows you to have, or means having, things. What good are things though, if you do not use them? I have this computer and I like it very much. It allows me to entertain myself and others, it allows me to organize myself, to communicate with friends and family and to keep myself informed. I like my clothes, they keep me warm. It is good to have some money in the bank so I can keep a roof over my head (again with the warm, oh and the dry, do not underestimate the importance of dry.) Books are great, they educate and entertain me and even sometimes do both at once.
Wealth, to my way of thinking, should not have any value beyond what it does. Certainly I can appreciate the importance of having a little extra for emergencies, but do you really need to hold on to so much that you could not spend it in twenty lifetimes? Do you really need a mansion and three cars. Do you really use a tv and computer in every room? What do the super wealthy really need multiple homes for? Sure the answer for some is “status”, but is that all?
We fill our lives with “things” without reflecting on them so often. Which is not to say we should reject things. This is not some socialist screed, that will come later, but a call for a little introspection. Buy a house, get lots of toys (provided you play with them), go on vacations, save up enough so your kids maybe have it a little easier go of it when you are gone. Just ask yourself, with each deposit, with each new purchase “what does it do?”