I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. - Albert Schweitzer

The day will come when you will trust you more than you do now, and you will trust me more than you do now. And we can trust each other. ... I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous – and people are not yet willing to pay it. - James Baldwin

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How Have We Become So Poor?

A few weeks ago I was having lunch with my wife and daughter in a small sandwich shop. At the next table there was a man about my age. He looked to be pretty well-heeled. His appearance and behavior were not that unusual, but for some reason he has stuck in my mind. He was droning on and on about government spending and taxes and deficits. Mostly I just tried to tune him out but I kept getting drawn back in. At the end of about every third sentence he would earnestly close with the same phrase almost as if it were punctuation, “We just can't afford it anymore.” And on and on and on it went. Then the conversation shifted and he started to go on at great length about his ongoing quest for the perfect bottle of Merlot, and I thought to myself that perhaps he could afford a little more than he realized.

Contrast that with this quote from Abdul Rashid Kahn out of Greg Mortenson's wonderful book Stones Into Schools.

"All I really want for my people is a school so that we can provide education for our children. ... To achieve that, I am willing to give up all of my wealth—all of my sheep, all of my camels, all of my yaks—everything I have, if only Allah will grant this one request."
Abdul Rashid Khan is the leader of the Kirghiz tribesmen in one the most remote regions in the mountains of Afghanistan. Perhaps we could lobby to get him an appoint to Sloan School so that he could teach a new generation of business leaders about the nature of true wealth and true poverty.

There is a wonderful scene near the end of Schindler's List where Schindler is looking around at his car and his jewelry and agonizing that each one of his little indulgences represent a life that could have been saved but was not. If you take that sort of thinking too far you can make yourself crazy. Life is for living and we need comedians and artists every bit as much as we need welders and computer programmers. We need some ease and some comfort and some joy. But there is some limit to the value of self-indulgence. It may be hard to define with precision, but it is there nonetheless.

How many bottles of Merlot would you trade to leave the next generation a better world?

No comments:

Post a Comment