On Affluence & Poverty…

This morning, I woke up thinking about affluence and poverty. I think we can all agree that wealth is a matter of perspective. You can be making 50k or 200k a year and consider yourself “poor” if you like keeping up with the Kardashians.  Meanwhile, in comparison to most people on Earth, you are exceptionally wealthy if you are making 50k independently. Social status is funny in this way; the measure of wealth and poverty is in constant flux depending on where you are standing.

For some reason, it seems more and more people around me are complaining about money these days. Perhaps it’s just a natural phase as things begin to change and evolve in our lives. There is a very clear rejection of the “rich” although, for all intents and purposes, I would not classify any of my friends as poor. In fact, I wouldn’t classify most people in this country as poor. I’ve seen poverty, and it isn’t the inability to purchase a BMW. Yet, oddly enough, I hear the phrase “we’re poor” being tossed around by people who are even more educated and have higher paying jobs than me.

I am often taken aback by such statements. “If I do not consider myself poor, how can you?” I wonder how little of the world they must have seen to so confidently complain and insist that they lack, all while I can very clearly observe their outrageous spending habits.

In the same vein, alongside the “poor me,” there is always a “lucky them!” Once, a coworker complained to me that the person at the top of the workplace hierarchy makes four times her salary. “It’s not fair!” She complained, “is she better than me? Is she more human?”

“No, girl!” I said, “this isn’t about humanity. Are you better than the person who has to work 18 hours a day at $1 per hour to survive? Are you better than someone who earns $1 dollar a day? No. This isn’t about humanity. This is about the fact that she handles projects that, if she fails, would cost the company 50 times your salary. It’s about the fact that she worked four times the length of your entire working life. It’s about the fact that she is there now and, if you don’t cheer her on for her hard work, it’s also about the fact that you are not prepared to work as hard to earn what she has earned.”

Yes. The world can be unfair. Bad people do get ahead sometimes. But… good people get ahead too. Just because you do not have whatever someone else has, it doesn’t mean you have earned the green light to blame them for your own sense of lack. People suffer so profoundly due to their own entitlement.

My mom always told me… “do badly, fail badly, and everyone will blame you for your failure. Succeed, and everyone will blame you for your luck.” What’s luck got to do with it? I’ve seen many an unlucky person succeed – due to wit! 

Affluence and poverty are matters of perspective. I have witnessed people create greatness out of absolutely nothing. I have seen people leave home and family, survive under bat and bullet, work incredibly long hours in harsh conditions and climates, to earn a better living for themselves. Ironically, it is those people who typically do not complain.

I’ve also witnessed people who always have something to eat, who have a roof (a LARGE one) over their heads, who work in a comfortable space for a minimum number of hours, who own a car and go out to eat several times a week, who tap their debit cards without a second thought… complain that they are poor.

I’m not sure what planet they live on.

Every day, I am grateful for my blessings on this Earth. The few people who know the difficulties I face ask me how I manage to keep a smile on my face and how I can always stay calm. They ask me where I find the money to help others and to be generous. They ask me how I can afford to give to others. Perhaps the answer they expect is that God sends me a pot of gold from heaven every month like clockwork.

But the truth is, I often take from my own mouth to give to others and that is because I firmly believe that I am rich, even when I am penniless. I firmly believe that the universe is full of abundance for those who give abundantly. I firmly believe that only the man who stands alone is poor. And, above all, I don’t want what others have. I don’t hold a grudge against “rich people” because I am ambitious and respect ambition. I don’t care about anybody else’s car or house or purse. I don’t even notice. I don’t believe that life is a zero sum game. The fact that someone else is more affluent than me only proves that there is potential for me to grow – there is more than enough to go around.

Be genuinely happy for the ones who “made it,” they prove that you can too. Don’t assume that the rich person is lucky and the poor person is lazy… ultimately, these judgments don’t say much about their truth, but reveal a hell of a lot about yours.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

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