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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, August 22, 2012
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The Good Life
with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit

The privilege of poverty

The Good Life
with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit

Bill Gates, the modern-day icon of enormous-wealth-made-honestly, once said that he and his wife, Melinda, do not want to leave all the wealth they made to their daughter. We want to give her something that will make her secure, they said, but not too much she won’t work anymore.

William Buffet, the other honest wealth icon, also said as much when he talked about how he will leave his money behind to his children: just enough to make sure they do not end up destitute, but not too much it will destroy them.

The Gateses and Buffet must know whereof they speak. Having mastered the art of making wealth, they should know money is a double-faced sword, that it can do good as much as evil to the one who has it. And we’re not talking evil like getting kidnapped or held up.

Indeed, all our struggling lives have been so driven by the need to make money that we have not exactly stood back and reflected the whys and wherefores of wealth, that it is not the be-all and end-all of things. While we all need money, we need other things as well – security, peace of mind, self-worth – to really say we have lived and lived well.

The thoughts came to my mind as I remember a college friend, who was so talented but so rich he did not have to work. He seemed like Midas, and everything he worked on turned to gold. Sadly, he did not stay on in the arts, preferring instead a life as a planter – you know, stick those cane cuttings on the ground and wait six months for harvest.

I still can’t get over the idea what sort of art we must have lost with talent like his which he did not pursue. Of course, things may be more complicated than this in his personal life, but that’s just my point here: just how many good things did not come to fruition because the talented did not have enough motivation to develop their God-given gifts?

How many talented, bright and gifted women have we lost to the plain and simple joys of motherhood? I know this one is controversial, but isn’t there a need to provide an avenue for women to realize their full potentials even if they prefer to be full-time mothers? But I digress.

My main issue really is how wealth can distract us, and prevent us from fully realizing our potentials and, along the way, prevent us from contributing to the good of the world.

I’ve seen up close how the very wealthy, indeed, can be different from you and I, as was written in the Great Gatsby. They are so different, they do not worry about the basic things in life like whether or not they will have food on the table a week or a month from now. They worry about other things…oftentimes, non-important matters they labor under irreparable ennui. Sometimes, they even do not know what their problem is!

I’ve seen enough of the lifestyles of the rich, the really, really rich, and even the outlandishly rich to tell you being poor is a blessing. Really. Being poor makes clear the things we want and need, and the need to address them even clearer.

Along the way, we also fully develop our potentials, because frankly, we do not have any choice but to pursue that which will provide for our basic needs. In the process, we become better persons.

Poverty is a privilege, yes; it is our ticket and motivation to become the best of what we can be.*

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