Can the rich be thankful? Can the poor?
Jesus wasn’t against wealthy people per se. When he said that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, he acknowledged that with God all things are possible! He was saying that along with “in God we trust,” every dollar bill should also include a warning, “danger handle with care.”
In other words, he was warning that more often than not wealth has a way of seducing people into the illusion that they earned what they have. And when you think that way, there’s no reason to be thankful. It’s like that commercial from Charles Schwab in which he states, “I started my company for people who want to take control over their finances as they do in every other part of their lives; because the one question they don’t want to ask is ‘how did I get her?”
Control is a big issue. The Republicans base a lot of their policy statements on the assumption that we humans have a great deal of control over how our lives turn out. From that assumption it follows that if you are wealthy, you can say that you earned it. And if you are poor, sorry but it’s your own fault. You are lazy or chose not to get an education or made bad decisions on the road of life.
The illusion of control is problematic because it ignores what Phil Jimenez, the CEO of the West Suburban YMCA calls the factor of “genes and geography.” Although he has been a big success in life, he attributes where he is today to genes, i.e. he was LUCKY enough to be born with enough intelligence to function in a very competitive society, and to geography , i.e. he was LUCKY enough to be live in the richest country with the most opportunity in the world.
He can’t take credit for either circumstance. To my observation, Jimenez is defying the odds and sliding through the eye of the needle.
My daily devotion book Touchstones records the following quote from Philip Slater: “One of the main reasons wealth makes people unhappy is that it gives them too much control over what they experience. They try to translate their own fantasies into reality instead of tasting what reality itself has to offer.”
The Democrats, in contrast, base many of their policy statements on the assumption that there is much in life which most of us don’t have control over. Farmers can’t make it rain when there’s a drought and can’t make it stop raining when they can’t get in their flooded fields to harvest their corn and beans.
Before she died in 2008, my mother had a lot of her savings invested in Lehman Brothers. Her advisor assured her that it was a low risk stock. Oh well. The Two Fish gals, Cec and Tonya, did everything right. They produced a quality product, provided a great service, came up with creative, collaborative marketing events, but they couldn’t control the economy.
The problem with that perspective is that it can discourage us from taking control of our own destiny. If you are not where you want to be in life, you can always blame it on racism or the glass ceiling or the 1% or the Republicans or how your parents screwed your life up with bad toilet training.
Touchstones begins the meditation for one day with a quote from Margaret Atwood: “This above all, to refuse to be a victim. Unless I can do that I can do nothing.”
Here’s the thing. Many of us have been or are still being victimized. That’s the objective truth that Democrats point out correctly. The problem with that observation is that if internalized, if as my AA friends like to say you remain sitting on a “pity pot,” you ignore the internal spiritual power available to all of us by taking the control you do have over your own life.
That’s what I saw in the chauffeur in the movie Driving Miss Daisy. The rich lady treated her driver like dirt, but he had this inner dignity which refused to allow the outward reality of his life to define who he was.
So who’s right? Are the Republicans right by asserting that we should take control over our lives, stop blaming forces outside us for where we are in life and let go of depending on the government to solve our problems? Or are the Democrats right by pointing out the limits to the control most of us have, band together to change the system and demand that the government do more for the 99%?
The answer of course is “yes.”
I know that control is a big issue for me. When life is going good, I tend to get cocky and sing “I did it my way” with the Chairman of the Board. But then when my life is in the tank, I wallow in self-pity and blame “forces greater than myself” for my depression.
Either way, I find it hard to be truly thankful.
There’s a spiritual sweet spot, isn’t there? Call it a sense of luck or grace combined with taking responsibility for what I can do. May you find that sweet spot tomorrow and be thankful.