How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

Should You Go for Meaning or the Money? A Debate

A debate on whether to prioritize money or meaning. Read More

I found meaning...

I found meaning with a middle class income and am happy in retirement. My sister in law, an architect's wife who herself was a banker, is now involved an many very busy making charitable activities post retirement because she feels she is giving back. I think she doesn't know how to relax and enjoy life. Glenn

The argument you're

The argument you're addressing here is essentially quantity v quality, and it's an awkward comparison to make. Quantity (money) is a measurement, material and limited whereas quality (meaning) is a passion, immaterial and unlimited.
For arguments sake let us picture the yin/yang symbol whereby quantity contains a small amount of quality and quality contains a small amount of quantity - if you are rich in one, you are poor in the other - so opting for the middle ground would supposedly give you the best option - but is that really the case?

I see this as a rigid as opposed to dynamic balance - whereby we are narrowing the options that are open to us. For example if we looked at the yin/yang symbol in a way that was good/bad - which are opposing - then it's very apparent that the best option wouldn't be the middle position - we'd be wanting to maximise the good and minimise the bad. So if you said that the white half was 'good' and the black half was 'bad', essentially you'd be wanting the white half to be dynamic and expand to fill the entire circle - you don't eliminate the 'bad' but minimise it.
So what if we were to take this view with quantity and quality, looking at them seperately, how they oppose each other, say high or low. In living our lives do we want high or low quality/high or low quantity? And then equate this to our needs, both individually and collectively.

I'd suggest that many would aspire to high quality, such as good over bad, love over hate, courage over fear, passion/interest over boredom/disinterest etc etc which would lead to a more peaceful and co operative type of world, as referring to our yin/yang symbol the hate,fear,boredom,disinterest would be minimised if we were able to expand the 'goodness', the white half. To enhance these qualities requires much hard work on an individual level but could also enhance the collective, and these qualities are unlimited. This could be considered a humane need.

Now quantity is a different prospect - do we want high or low quantity (bearing in mind quantity is a measured and limited resource). This means that those who aspire to high quantity take a greater amount of the resource, meaning that there is less available to others, whether they aspire to high quantity or not. For an individual high quantity may be deemed to be 'good', but collectively this cannot be the case. Then following on from this - do we need high quantity? How much quantity constitutes a humane need?

So to the original question - quantity does not really equate to quality - but many of the systems that are currently in place do lead us to believe that they co-exist in a partnership. Where quantity dominates quality is minimised, so the unlimited is severely limited, however where quality dominates qualitative growth is unlimited and not dependent on quantitative limits - however the quantitative limits are still taken into consideration. Where quantity and quality maintain a 'happy medium' quality is still severely limited in its growth by a rigid balance.

Just to visualise rigid balance you could use the concept of a set of scales, an either/or scenario, right or left or up and down - whereas dynamic balance could constitute a tight rope walker, whereby both the rope and the walker are moving, right and left and up and down.

In thinking this through, you'll probably find it easier to draw and label the yin/yang symbol to grasp the context of what I have described.

Greed rules the world

How lovely that you were socialized by school, college, media, and religion to seek meaning over money. I, however, was socialized by those institutions, plus my family and friends, to seek money, money, money. Capitalism requires consumerism. Businesses, therefore, spend trillions of dollars on media campaigns to promote consumerism, which requires money. By that model, we exist to buy "things" so that our lives, and those whom we love and support, will be "better" and "happier." That's the promise of those millions and millions of commercials we see throughout our lives.

Moreover, our culture is obsessed with being #1 -- at EVERYTHING. Nothing less is acceptable. For example, it isn't enough to compete in the Olympics. A delegate MUST bring home the gold. Anything less is failure. To those who win the silver or bronze, they are patted on the back and told, "Oh, good try. You came so close. Maybe next time." Lying, cheating, and stealing are so prevalent because our culture breeds this type of winner-take-all competition (think: Lance Armstrong), which is why income inequality is so extreme.

Personally, despite the intense pressure to achieve everyone else's definition of success (power and wealth), I chose government service (public defender), because I didn't want my practice of law to be focused on generating income. I didn't want to sit across from a client and consider whether to spend the time writing a motion or researching the law or preparing for court (which is the heart of legal practice) when I could make more money spending that time with other clients or "networking" with other attorneys. Now, 25 years later, I have very few material things, no retirement plan, poor physical and emotional health because of the intense stress (and depravity I witnessed). By every outward societal measure of success, I am a failure. While I know in my heart that I helped hundreds, if not thousands, of people, and sleep well because of it, the world does not care. It does not appreciate the sacrifices I made (often living hand to mouth on abysmal government salaries) to provide a public service that benefits us all. It measures me by my status in the food chain and by my material wealth. I try every day to hold firm in my lifelong convictions that I made the right choices in life, but the messages I get everyday from my framily, and the world at large, is that I'm a fool. Nice guys (and gals) finish last. At 50, I'm starting to experience the discomfort of my choices and wish that I had been less idealistic and altruistic and more self-protective. No time like the present, I suppose.

You don't have to...

You don't have to watch those commercials, nor that materialistic medium. You can turn off and disconnect your TV. My wife and I did that three years ago, and we both feel much better for having done so. Set your own values for what is important to you. Life's too precious to do otherwise. Glenn

You are a hero

You sound like a wonderful person. I do wish people appreciated people like you more.


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Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 

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