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Friday, March 9, 2012

Character Building

May you have an easy life” may seem like a saying by which to raise a glass, but in some traditions, it’s actually considered a curse.   At my sister’s first wedding, when her then father-in-law, one of the meanest men to walk the planet, toasted his son and new daughter-in-law with this saying, I whispered to my friend “He doesn’t realize it, but he just cursed them”   Less then 10 years later his son, my brother-in-law, committed suicide.  I gave thanks that he didn't take my sister and their two beautiful daughers with him.  The back story isn’t important.  What’s important is this:
Without strife, without challenges, without the things in life that makes us cry, frustrated, angry and confused we would be walking around as empty shells.   The things in life that we think we want and make us angry, jealous, and sad when we can’t have them, are meaningless.   Having it easy does not build character; it subtracts from character building.   And by the way, building character is not the same as being a character.  Just in case you were confused (lol).
While I know that in some ways, having NF is a gift, I of course would like to return it most of the time.  I don’t need it anymore, I tell myself.  I’m already as good as I’m going to get in the character building department.  But am I?  And what would happen to me and my values should I say, win the lottery?  Not a measly million dollars either (can you believe I wrote that?  A measly million dollars?  When did that happen?  See what I mean?  Even flat broke, I’m jaded)
If I won, say, 10 million, 20 million, what would I do with it?  I’ve actually put some thought into this.  I know exactly what I would do.  I’d set up a medical trust for myself, give myself a strict budget on which to live, and give the rest away (and I know exactly to whom it would go).  So I say. So I think. So I write.  But in reality, what would happen?  I’d like to think I’d have the same values I have now, and that I’d honor my distribution fantasy…but would I?  Who knows.  So far, I haven’t won.  Of course, I rarely buy tickets either because I can’t throw away even a couple bucks a week.  Still, it’s fun to think about. But  would I suddenly turn into someone my friends and family no longer recognize?  Someone I myself wouldn’t recognize?  Heaven forbid if I became a Republican!  But I don’t think even 100 million would make that happen.  I’d be happy to pay taxes on that kind of money. 
And giving it away to people who are truly in need would not just be something I did because I’m nice (so I think).  It would be my duty, my responsibility.  I think that because I would not have come by it honestly.   I also think people who come by it from hard work have a responsibility to share the wealth, because even though someone may have worked hard to get it, without people to buy the product or service they sell, they would not be successful financially. 

And as I wrote in my letter to my mother (posted here), hard work does not always pay dividends.  We need to stop canonizing successful people.  And successful people need to step up to the plate more, especially in this financial climate.  When the wealthy go running to the hills, afraid that their money will be taken away by taxes (and the lawmakers keep making sure they aren’t taxed) we are in deep trouble.  And we are in deep trouble. We put value on all the wrong things and wonder why we are in the kind of financial trouble we are in. As my almost 88 year old father, a longtime liberal says “When did taxes become such a hateful word?”  He’s right.  Our infrastructures are a mess because we don’t have money to fix the problems.  Yes, there are probably too many taxes, but millionaires who are allowed to keep almost every dime they have is criminal.
So be careful what you wish for and work on who you are in the world.  Be grateful for your challenges, even the ones that hurt like hell (physically and emotionally).  Be generous in spirit and you will be generous in all areas of your life. 
And if you are among the 1%.(and if you are complaining) shame on you.  If you are among the 1% who gives and doesn’t complain, thank you.

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