Wealth is an accumulation of assets, tangible and intangible, that have value. A person’s net worth is the difference between what he or she owns less what he or she owes.
In times like these, many if not most have seen their net worth decrease. Our investments are worth less as are our homes. We are, in real dollars, worth less than we were just a few short months ago. This decrease has created deep sadness.
Economic wealth is important. It provides security and means. But it isn’t our only wealth nor our most important.
Someone once said that when something is diminished it enhances the value of what is left. If there is an upside to our current situation, it is that with less economic wealth we might better appreciate the real wealth that is left.
In December I spent a week recovering from surgery. I had dodged the bullet on a serious health issue through the power of modern medicine, an extraordinary doctor and prayer (not necessarily in that order). The time resting gave me an opportunity to do some serious reflection. As I watched the grim news about the global economy and took into account the impact on our family’s finances, I was reminded of something I’m betting you already know. What ultimately count are faith, family and friends. The rest is icing on the cake.
Sure, we all really, really like the icing: the money, the toys, the trips. But we can live far better without them than we can with an absence of faith, family and friends. For me at least, the choice would be an easy one.
Faith of course is spiritual in nature. In my worldview I am reminded of what Jesus said: What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and yet lose his or her soul? (Paraphrased). Even if you don’t hold a similar worldview, the principle transcends religions. If your soul is the essence of who you really are, wouldn’t that be the greatest loss of all? If you trade your values, hopes and dreams for something less important—if you “settle down”—haven’t you at least diminished if not lost your greatest wealth?
We all need faith in the future right now. We don’t have to agree with all the ways and means others are suggesting for coming out of this crisis, but we can use history as a guide. Americans in particular and people in general are resilient. Nietzsche’s often used but still appropriate quote holds: that which does not kill me only serves to make me stronger. This applies to nations as well as individuals.
Strong family relationships, even when imperfect, are a blessing. We don’t always control the quality of family relationships, but we control the effort we exert in developing them.
Of course family goes beyond those people with whom you share genetics. I’ve worked with organizations that had a literal feel of family about them. People truly cared for, encouraged and protected each other. Regardless how rare this type of organization may be, it gives us hope for what our organizations could be.
Community, church, synagogue and association provide a sense of family. Some of my closest friends are those I know through the National Speakers Association as well as Cherry Hills Community Church. In tough times, this extended family is an important source of support.
Using those definitions of family blurs the distinction between family and friends. Friends can feel like family even when they aren’t literally. But maybe a looser definition of friends will help us get a better handle on real wealth.
Many of the people we refer to as friends are really acquaintances; we wouldn’t share our deepest secrets and concerns with them. Yet they create real wealth in our lives. There are some I only cross paths with occasionally, yet they lift my spirits and enrich my experience. I have a few friends I’ve never really met. They are authors, speakers and thinkers whose works have influenced me greatly. While they don’t know me as such, I feel a kindred spirit with them.
Real wealth isn’t just about the size of our net worth but the substance of our lives, and that substance in large part is defined by faith, family and friends. Do whatever you can to protect your financial assets, but work just as hard to shelter and preserve those beliefs and relationships that constitute real wealth.
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