What I own does not define me

As an Old Fart, one piece of advice I would share with our younger folks is please do not let what you own define you. It does not define me as if I thought this way, I would truly have a superficial, shallow view of my worth as a person. I know it is easier for me to say this as I do own nice, but not necessarily extravagant, things. I also know in my work with people in poverty or who are homeless, money is important, but there is a diminishing marginal return the more you gain. Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley in their book “The Rich and the Rest of Us” define poverty very succinctly as the “absence of money.” Yet, once you amass enough for a comfortable living, money can easily become a way of keeping score.

In the US and in most first world countries, we are relentlessly marketed to. People want to sell us new and better things. Take a car for example. Most dealers want you to lease a car rather than buy one. Why? The dealers know if you buy a car, you will keep it on average over nine years. If you take care of your car, it will last even longer. You may have guessed I am not a car person. My wife and I have nice cars, but not extravagant ones. We also keep them. My previous three cars were kept for ten years or more. If you do this, you will end up with more money for other things that are more important, like your kids’ education.

Continuing with this example, I do not care what people think about my car. To be honest, people cannot really tell that much difference between cars. Many new cars resemble each other and are pretty well made. And, do you know what car brand has the best retention rate at 64% per JD Power and Associates? – Hyundai, with a retention rate much higher than BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, etc. The emblem on the car seems to not matter a great deal, so don’t spend a fortune for it.

One of the best decisions we made with our current house is we did not “over buy.” We only did this with our first house as a married couple, which was a mistake, as there were a few moments when we questioned our sanity. With our current house, we bought one which is nice, but is something we could live in once the kids leave the nest. Yet, where I live does not define me either. I like it as it is nice, comfortable, safe and close to day-to-day shopping for errands, food, gas, etc.

So, what does define me? Being a good husband and father. Note, I am not a perfect one, but we have been married for almost 28 years and have three wonderful children who get along with each other and have for years. They share friends and involve each other in their mutual interests. I have said before the greatest sound in the world is to hear your children and their friends laughing. Nothing else comes close. My wife and I have always wanted and have a house where our children’s friends are welcome. With that comes a level of chaos, but I would not trade the chaos for the neatest house in the world.

What I also hope defines me is my interest in speaking out and taking care of the least fortunate in our society. I detest people taking advantage of others and will do my diplomatic and, when needed, candid best to remedy that. Life is unfair, but there are times we it need not be so unfair. People deserve opportunity. It is up to them to use that opportunity, yet when they are denied opportunity by virtue of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, disability, socio-economic class,  etc. that is wrong. This is one reason why I do not believe in unfettered capitalism as those with the most money have tended to taken advantage of those without. It may not be blatant, but there is a recent study which showed empirically, the more money you have (even in a board game), you feel the world owes you more and the rules are meant less for you. I will write a future post on this study, yet the data is pretty powerful.

I do believe in capitalism and meritocracy, mind you, as we should reward hard work and success. Yet, we also need to keep things fair. Which is the last thing I want to be known for and that is a term an HR test giver gave me once. He said your strength and your weakness is you are a “truthseeker.” I added his comment about weakness as well, but for the most part it is a strength and something I feel I must do and want to do. I have always been thirsty for information that is known to be true. My blogging friend Barney at www.mountainperspective.wordpress.com just wrote an excellent post on the “Death of Journalism.” We have lost our truthseekers in news, so we need more of them on the ground. Barney is one of our truthseekers.

The weakness of being a truthseeker is I have on occasion put on my Don Quixote armor and charged a windmill. I did this at work on occasion, usually when I felt someone was included on a RIF list unjustifiably. I fought like hell for several folks, did save one who is still flourishing and had the leaders vet further a few more, but did not change the outcome. I told my boss I know I will be unsuccessful, but still had to try. I said I would do the same for him if his name was ever included on a list. My boss even gave me the Serenity Prayer, which is about the serenity in knowing the difference between the things you can change and not change.

But, even if you cannot make a difference, there are times when you did need to channel your inner Quixote and try. Some of my blogging friends know I have been charging uphill toward the windmill that is our North Carolina legislature. Will I make a difference? I hope I can at least help others see the short-sightedness of some of the decision-making. I also want the legislators to ask more questions as they are accepting too much misinformation as the truth. We are going against some well-funded lobbying and donors who want their playbook executed, right or wrong. Unfortunately, most of the rightness is for a limited few and most of the wrongness is for all us Sanchos and Dulcineas in the world.

So, if there is a takeaway, the acquisition of things becomes less important in life. What is important is other people in your life. When I had a health scare at the age of 44 and was by myself in an Emergency Room at the hospital all wired up and monitored, I can assure you  of two things. First, I did not think of work or my possessions, not once. Second, what I thought of was my family – seeing my wife and kids. I thought of surviving to see my grandchildren one day. So, my advice is to think less of what you don’t have in terms of possessions. Think more of your family and friends. Think more of how you can make a difference in the lives of others. And, keep the armor handy for your next windmill chase.

15 thoughts on “What I own does not define me

  1. This is what is so wrong with television (and radio, oh and hey, magazines) these days. The Kardashianization of America? Everything is geared to making people want what they don’t have. It’s an endless, Sisyphean mountain of needs that are really only wants. You have to laugh at a monthly magazine called “Real Simple” that weighs more than my laptop. If it was that simple, how could you find so much to write about? Of course, they aren’t writing, they are marketing fancy products that people can buy to hoodwink themselves that they are living simply. Egad.

    • That is some word – “Kardashianization” of America. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Wants vs needs. If you can define that, you are ahead of the game. Take care, BTG

    • Making people want what they don’t have is the primary goal of marketing and sales. Or from the Marketing Departments POV: “It is our job to point out to people what their need is and how our product/service is the best and only solution.” 🙂

      Some of it goes back to the saying, “Keeping up with the Joneses”. With the increase in reality TV we can see what the Joneses have and what we don’t. With technology, and the Internet, we can surf the web and find out about all those products and gizmo’s that the Joneses have that we don’t.

      There are much more infomercials and reality TV shows now than when I was growing up. It is cheaper to produce reality TV than a TV show. Ratings keep those shows on the air.

      • It takes more will power than some have to say “no.” I was checking out of Cracker Barrel the other day and the cashier tried to get me to buy several of their cheap gifts. I said, “you have done your duty well, but no thank you.” She said, “but you did not buy anything.” I said, “I don’t want anything. Just because I can, does not mean I should.” I told my wife, even Cracker Barrel has cross selling pressures. Thanks for writing. BTG

  2. Hey, Don Quixote, you are exactly right! This post reminds me of two documentaries I recently watched. One was Park Avenue, about the wealthiest street in the country. The other is The Queen of Versailles. They are both interesting glimpses into the lives of the super wealthy. What this also reminds me of is the observation of Domenica Ruta in her memoir, that when she worked for a domestic violence hotline, the women, time and time again, refused to leave their abusers because of their “things” or their economic security. To me, that was a sure sign that we have sickened ourselves with the idea that having things and money is more important than being self-empowered or being treated with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen in my family that “things” are more important than people.

    • Thanks Emily. I am sorry about your witnessing first hand the negativity of the pursuit of “things.” People who live the gated community life or life of luxury more often than not have a hard time understanding those who don’t. This study I referenced shows clear data that wealthier people are prone to cheat more as they feel laws are for the little people. It is also indicated that the more you have, the more you believe it is due to your own capabilities and no luck was involved. That is why I wrote the post quoting Warren Buffett who said luck was involved in his success. Mitt Romney, e.g., was born on 3rd base, so he had a leg up. Thanks for commenting. Signed “Man of La Mancha.”

    • By calling a domestic violence hotline the women were showing strength and courage to reach out to someone. They are verbally, emotionally, psychologically, and physically abused by the abuser. The refusal to leave being boiled down to “things” and “economic security” misses the fear the abusers have put into their victims. They weren’t staying because of stuff, they were staying because the abusers made them believe they were worthless without them, that they are in control. These women often see no way out. Their abusers also have them scared that they will find them. A lot of times they do find them. This is why the shelters are hidden.

      Making that phone call, to me, shows that they had enough self worth and esteem to make an attempt. An attempt that should never be dismissed simply because they couldn’t just leave the abuser.

      • That’s a good point Roseylinn. Ruta boiled it down to that, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. The fear they had over losing “things” was likely a small part of the larger fear they lived in each day. Thanks for helping me to think about it more broadly. I’ve been trying to make sense of that tidbit ever since I read it. It haunts me.

      • Good conversation around a very important topic. About 30% of the women and families we help in our homeless family program come from a DV situation. Roseylinn, you hit the nail on the head with your remarks. It is about power and control. The DV stuff often starts with demeaning control, then the violence start showing up. The possessions maybe some form of comfort or restitution. Yet, the answer is to get out while you can. The end result if you stay is not good.

  3. you knocked this one out of the ball park, quixote! knowing several stories from domestic abuse, there’s another concern that keeps some counting the days until they can leave, and that’s for a good education for the children. with sensitivity i tried to point out that they weren’t teaching their children about what it’s like to live in a happy home, where the father loves/adores the mother, and so on… it goes back to verbal abuse and ‘you will never make it without me,’ or ‘you can leave but i will fight you with the best counsel possible for custody of the children.’

    it takes a strong backbone to leave, and for many, it’s scary.

    as for materialism, i have always said that your life ends up owning you with the more assets you accumulate. i think it’s important to obtain success and then it’s easier to back off and have a more simple life. ego plays a bit role in the ‘i want more’ game.

    i am so happy to be far away from that world!

  4. I’ve written on occasion about the advantages of letting go of one’s ego. Without that, I don’t care that I’ve spent the vast majority of my life driving used cars, or that I wear dress shoes severely out of date, or that if I have a disagreement with someone, I can usually agree to disagree and move on.

    My specialty in business was negotiations, and the best lesson I ever learned was that the “War of Business” was as bogus as they come. If the outcome wasn’t a “win-win” then it was “lose-lose.” There is no middle ground.

    Great post, as usual.

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