One of my staff got the chance to visit Malawi before coming on my team. As it’s a small world sometimes, she actually got the chance to have dinner with one of our Tricord Global contacts. As her team visited his house and sat down to eat, they took in what it means to be wealthy in Lilongwe, Malawi. As a respected, wealthy citizen, the family had a nice house with a kitchen and bathroom and all. And yet my staff member noticed that instead of toilet paper, an old notebook was strung up in the bathroom with pages torn.
It is interesting to think that the idea of wealth can be so universal and yet look so different. The majority of people in the US wouldn’t even think about using a notebook in the bathroom. Toilet paper is almost a given in our first world. So what is wealth?
- Wealth is Relative: Wealth after all is a relative thing since he that has little and wants less is richer than he that has much and wants more.-Charles Caleb Colton Anywhere in the first world, being out of toiler paper would be much apologized for (or never happen). But in Malawi, that doesn’t fit in to their view of wealth. Because at the end of the day, wealth is relative. To me, it looks like good health, a connected family and success in my ventures. To my staff member it looks like freedom from school debt, time to cook and a happy marriage. To our Africa contact it looks like a solid home, a TV and a wife and kids. There is no one vision of what a wealthy person is.
- Wealth is Specific:We cannot seek or attain health, wealth, learning, justice or kindness in general. Action is always specific, concrete, individualized, unique.-Benjamin Jowett The specificity of wealth works in tandem with the last point. Wealth is not a general term. Our cultures may form an idea for us, but it will look different in the specifics. For one, wealth is the security of a savings account, whereas another sees wealth as a constant cash flow for spending. The individuality of wealth is to be treasured and sought after on an individual basis.
- Wealth is Symbolic: Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.-Franklin D. Roosevelt Finally, wealth is not just the specific, relative things we have in our life. It always reflects back onto us. Wealth is a symbol of achievement, success, respect, care, love. When I see the good things in my life, I appreciate them because of what they say to me: “Well done, you made it.” Our contact in Africa sees his home as a symbol of his status and respect in his community. Similarly, your car or phone symbolize something deeper when you consider them a part of what makes you wealthy.
What does wealth symbolize to you? What does wealth specifically look like for you?
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