On Making Money

“To risk it on one game of pitch-and-toss and … never breathe a word about your loss?” (Rudyard Kipling, ‘If’)

Yesterday I met two millionaires, I assume. Both guys under 50. They seemed to be good, fairly down-to-earth people who loved their work and had a sense of value in society that went beyond simply stimulating the economy. One of them has a particularly positive self-image that probably stems from his time spent in life coaching. He plays in a popular South African band.

“I know how to make a f***k ton of money,” he said, without a trace of arrogance. “I’ve done that.” He rattled off a quick, well-rehearsed list of his parent companies, subsidiaries and brands that every musician in South Africa would recognize. These words leave his mouth often, I thought. “Now I want to continue making money, but this time without needing to.” He told a quick cautionary tale involving his Mercedes-driving filmmaker friend whose million dollar home in Constantia wasn’t enough to keep him from feeling financially insecure. “If you want to feel secure, stop making money,” was the punchline.

It all came across as very sincere and authentic. He seems at peace. I felt I could relate to him on a personal level. Despite the subtle differences in our financial situations (#lol), he is a music businessman who has created financial success by knowing how to provide for a market. (And, in his own remorseful words, by often “not giving the other party a chance to defend themselves”). But here is where my affection for and adherence to his top-of-the-world lifestyle end, and my analytical thinking, skepticism and introspection kick in.

So, a question. One that is deep in both the eyes of every beggar at every traffic light and in those of my wealthy brother’s little blonde kids, who have an excellent education ahead of them. In no way do I intend for this question to be weighted one way or another:

Is it possible to serve two masters? In this case:

* security / income / wealth (call it what you will) and the noble, self-sacrificing promise of providing a good life for your children and others

* the artistic-prophetic-spiritual voice which holds up a mirror to itself and society to benefit it with a vision of what it needs to see, often at cost to oneself

Until it’s possible for one person to become richer without making another poorer in the process, I’m troubled by the idea that these aims are necessarily at odds with each other. For me, it’s hard to picture anyone ever again at ease after having tasted the finest things life has to offer. It’s also hard to picture the type of person who regularly stands in the rain waiting for a bus to be truly at ease. Do the circumstances really make the man? Are we really that superficially attached to an environment that we only know never stands still? Is any one of us even able to feel truly detached from the identity forced upon them by their standing in society?

Everyone’s famously guarded about their financial situation, aren’t they? Those without a pile of gold are generally ashamed of being unable to live up to the standards dictated to them by advertising. And those with a pile of gold generally behave quietly about it to avoid putting targets on their own backs for unwanted business and handout seekers. If they acknowledge it at all. Nobody talks about it.

So just for today, imagine a world where every person’s overall wealth was displayed as a glowing neon number just above their head, and there was no way to conceal it. What would that mean to you?

- Johnny

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