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On the psychology of ‘having it all’

It was in the evening of Sunday 28 February 2016 in Savannah, Georgia, USA, I was listening to a homily in one of the local television channels. The man of God who delivered the sermon made reference to a portion of the Holy Bible which says that “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Refer Luke 19 vs 26, NIV). This powerful quotation was from our Lord Jesus Christ when He was telling His followers about the “The Parable of the Ten Minas.” This is the story of a man of noble birth who called ten of his servants and gave them not equally though, ten minas saying “put this money to work” he said, “Until I come back.”

Instead of setting the machinery in motion to make more money, some servants were busy complaining but kept the money. The wise servants who had capitalist brains were making more money in different proportions. As soon as the sermon was over, I delved into debate with my family members and friends. You need to be there to see the manner of arguments that ensued for and against the attitude of the ten servants. As some were using the Holy Bible for cross-referencing during the discourse, others copiously referred to ideas and concepts of philosophers that matter. They equally referred to thoughts of those whose thinking shape the 21st century.

As for me, I suddenly remembered and cited the recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which had on its agenda income inequality. We all know that all the fingers of the hand are not always of the same shape and size. We equally know that the level of economic inequality is so bad. So bad that even world leaders who either ignorantly or knowingly contributed to the problem, agree for the first time that unless a drastic step is taken, this ugly trend will undermine growth and social cohesion. How can anyone explain a world where 62 of world’s wealthier people own as much as the poorest 3.6 billion? Although, it was predicted in 2015 by Oxfam that the wealth of the top 1 percent would overtake that of the rest of the population by 2016, this prediction came to pass two months before the scheduled date.

Experts believe that instead of an economy that works for the prosperity of all, for future generations and the planet, we have created an economy for the one percent. They asked how this has happened for several years and why? They argued further that one of the underlying reasons responsible for this huge concentration of wealth and incomes is the increasing return to capital versus labour. While the share of the national income going to labour is reducing, the owners of capital are always smiling to banks through interest payments, dividends or retained profits. You can see and feel this inequality in Nigeria and other parts of the world. Are all these borne out of greed?

Experts believe that instead of an economy that works for the prosperity of all, for future generations and the planet, we have created an economy for the one percent. They asked how this has happened for several years and why?

It has been observed from the genealogies of mankind that human beings are the most complex corporeal created by God. Will Roger’s autobiography states that “The Lord so constituted everybody that no matter what colour you are, you require the same nourishment”. This expression reflects the philosophy of equality which perhaps would have formed the basic premise on which democracy stands all over the world. But imperfectly realised due to man’s greed. This is because man has always thought that the quality of life he lives is in the plethora of his possession. That is why a scientific study of the behaviour of man with respect to his desire for materialism is imperative.

According to Mahatma Gandhi, “earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.” A man driven by greed or envy loses the power of seeing things in their roundness or wholeness and his successes becomes failures. It is greed that have blurred the vision of most of our leaders that what they refer to as “success” had been assessed by the people they govern as a complete failure. If a society is infected with greedy leaders, they may achieve astonishing feats but they become increasingly incapable of solving the most elementary problems of everyday existence.

I have suddenly realized that many people are driven by materialism in our society. These are people who want to have everything including things they do not need. It is not only in Nigeria that you have people driven by the craze for wealth, it is all over the world. The desire to acquire wealth at all cost becomes the whole goal of their lives. It is wealth or nothing else. The drive to always get more is based on the misconception that having more will make me happier, more important in the society and more secure. But all these ideas are very untrue.

Some of us do not believe that possessions only provide temporary happiness. When the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed was quoted as saying that 55 Nigerians have stolen the sum of N1.34 trillion, I thought about this revelation for more than a week. The implication is that these 55 people can conveniently provide funds to enable about 10 states in Nigeria meet their capital and recurrent expenditures in 2016. It is unbelievable that a public servant owns houses worth about N4.0 billion in the society. This is crazy! While in office, he must have worked very hard.

When there is temporary happiness, things do not change. Those with kleptomaniac tendencies only get bored but want a newer, bigger, better version of wealth. In their ignorance, they do not know that it is also a myth that if they get more, they will be more important in the society. Wallowing in their ignorance, they do not know that “self-worth and net worth are not the same.”

Do you know that your value is not determined by your valuables? The most valuable things in life are not rooted in your stolen wealth. Let me tell you that the most common myth about money, is that having more will not make you more secure. It will not!

Wealth can be lost instantly through a variety of uncontrollable factors. That reminds me about an anonymous writing on a wall somewhere in the USA which says that: “when wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”

 

MA JOHNSON

The article was first published in this column on 8 March 2016.

 

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