Thursday, 11 September 2014

Wealth and Wisdom

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“I wish there were no such thing as money in this world – then there wouldn't be any poor people” had mused my then eight year old a couple of years ago. It was meant to be a straightforward statement – an innocent observation from a child’s perspective. But delve into it a bit deeper and it assumes a hugely philosophical tone which is a telling comment on the messy and complicated world we have created for ourselves.

In the eyes of a child – the solution was as simple as this – Do away with money and the social inequality would disappear too.  Although an impossible idea, it had certainly made me pause and think. Would the human race have been that much kinder, wiser and less arrogant if we hadn't invented money? Would we actually have been better off without this divisive commodity? My little one had inadvertently opened a Pandora's box of conflicting thoughts that I have never quite been able to resolve till date.

The same debate ignites itself inside my head every now and then when I can’t but help observe how human beings often treat each other.  Intoxicated by the heady rush that wealth brings on, people actually believe that they are superior to others and possess a natural right to belittle and demean.

This brings me to the incident that I wish to flush out of my system. It had been an interaction of the professional kind – the ones that are quite common place in the corporate world where one often deals with “high profile” business persons who own “big” brands. Most of them are usually quite cordial, and some are even friendly and down to earth which is just how it should be. But there are some interactions that are particularly unpleasant, that smack of conceit and haughtiness, where sharp words are uttered that catch you unawares simply because you never use such a tone on others and therefore expect the same standards from them; where you are forced to tell someone much older than you to stop shouting and to remind them to be civil; where you cannot completely speak your mind because your duty towards your client comes in the way, forcing you to swallow the mindless humiliation as stoically as possible. 

Infuriated as I was, the anger unleashed a barrage of questions in my mind. Why do we forget that we are being provided a service in exchange for a price – why can’t we view all work as a fair business transaction rather than an opportunity to assert one’s authority over another human being? What gives people the right to talk down and humiliate? Why does wealth evoke a sense of power over another?  Why does basic human dignity have to be associated with affluence? And who decides the definition of “affluence”?

From a more objective angle – it was quite a trivial episode – just one of those incidences that we needn't even raise an eyebrow about – as it is something that’s become so commonplace that we should have gotten thick skinned to this arrogance of the uber wealthy by now.  But at a deeper level it does rankle, bringing on a stinging sense of indignation. The memory of it hurts the ego and strikes at the core of one’s self-esteem.

It was while in such a state that I tried to see reason and found it when I recalled the simple innocence of the words of my precocious little girl. Her sensitivity stood out in sharp contrast to the high handedness I had just encountered and it comforted my soul, assuring me that all was not quite as amiss with the world as we are sometimes inclined to believe.

As long as this sensitivity warms a few hearts, our planet will continue to be graced by kind and compassionate minds that will be too classy and cultured to be swayed by the superficial trappings of wealth and glamour.

The thought brought the spring back into my step and the pride back into my heart.