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Resenting People You Don't Know Who Have Things You Think You Want (But Might Not)
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I grew up in a rich, cozy town in California. Not everyone there was wealthy, but no one was poor, and by the time I was 10, thanks to spoiled kids and their gaudy parents, I had a huge chip on my shoulder against “rich, elite, haughty arrogance.”
My reaction was immature, but common. Lots of kids from upperclass suburbs (even ones of color) feel a peculiar shame and guilt for their privilege, and while I never lied about my roots, I used to try to conceal it, fearing how others would stereotype me.
In reality, I wasn’t spoiled, but I was also totally spoiled, and it’s still hard for me to reconcile this. For example, when I was hit by a car in 2008 and couldn’t work, my worker’s comp. didn’t cover all my rent and bills, so my parents helped me out.
And that wasn’t the first or last time they helped me. Over the years, my family has doubled as guardian angels, stepping in to give me a bridge loan, or to pay for a plane ticket or hotel room, so I could attend an important event they were going to.
I’m deeply grateful for their help, and while I still feel an (unfair) urge to despise wealth, I also want to be able to provide the same assistance to my kids (if they need it), so I’ve been working to stop associating selfish, inhumane greed with finances.
However, I still can’t understand how so many people can capitulate to the idolization of wealth. It’s wise to respect how money can eradicate certain stresses, but if you spend time with the rich, you’ll quickly see that “There is no such thing as enough.”
But is that true for the people above them? What if we’re deluded by assumption when we say that money can’t buy happiness. Maybe the elite-rich, like Bezos, Musk, and Buffet, are actually happier with their obscene wealth. What if, when you get to that elite level, with that much “EFF you money,” life really is better, and you are happier?
To finish this thought experiment, I decided to list all the things I’d do if I had “Bezos Money,” and then try to figure out, psychologically, where it would get me.
I’d chase absurd buys, like the rights to songs (“I own ‘Happy Birthday’ and no one can use it!”), the naming rights to stadiums (Welcome to Poop & Fart stadium, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers), and of course, I’d buy real estate on the moon.
I’d buy a jet, build an airport at my home, and hire a full-time crew whom I’d put up in my “guest village” where everyone feels looked after and well-taken care of, in return for being on 24/7 call for any sudden excursion I’d want to take.
I’d buy a few Senators and lobby them for whimsical, unnecessary laws that would amuse me. For example, I’d pass a law requiring business culture to adopt a strict policy of no shaving and wearing tunics like cave-people to work. No exceptions.
I’d buy hospitals in the biggest cities in America, hire the best doctors and nurses in the world, then make them only accessible to people without health care. I’d also buy Harvard and Stanford and make them accessible only to kids in poverty.
After installing my version of social justice, I’d start worrying about how to keep making enough money to pay for the upkeep, and how to stop others from taking advantage of me. In the process, I’d become paranoid and skeptical of my friends.
I’d next try to escape from the suffocating, suicidally depressing ennui that comes with not trusting endless sycophants, bootlickers, adulators, scammers, gold-diggers, and other depraved, soulless people willing to anything for my money.
At this point, I’d turn to drugs and overeating (I’d make Motley Crüe & Elvis jealous) to escape the soul-crushing despair from being so un-relatable to others that no one can sympathize with me or connect to me, even in my own family.
I’d become even more fearful of someone coming to kill me for my money (thanks to the cycle of uppers and downers I’d be using to “cure” my alienation), and I’d stop trusting my own security and hole myself up in a fortress with steel walls.
I’d soon be unable to trust my cooks (“They’re poisoning me!”) but thanks to my fame, I’d be unable to shop for myself, and I wouldn’t even be able to have a home garden, since a sniper or jealous former aide could kill me while I’m tending to it.
I GIVE UP. THIS SUCKS. CAN I BE POOR INSTEAD?
Oh wait. That sucks too. Damn.
Our society urges citizens to seek safety and security, in the form of a money, and nearly every advertisement on TV shows you how having and spending said money will bring you immense joy, but there’s not a lot of evidence to substantiate this.
Just like the poor, rich people can off themselves in mansions, they can be betrayed by lovers, and they can even get diarrhea, the flu, and cancer. And if you think money can make you popular or buy you powerful jobs, Google Ross H. Perot for a dose of reality.
Lucky me, I found a way out, and all it takes is a switch of perspective. Instead of seeing society as a group divided by “Haves” and “Have-nots,” we can see how both are a subdivision of a “Want” group that has a binary of rarely discussed, “Want-nots.”
Want-nots can still have careers, homes, income, debt, and all the other markings of a citizen in an economy with products to buy, advertising, and so on. They just know that as they learn to want less, they feel more full, and satiation, not envy, brings joy.
Nahreya Seoane is a wife, mother of 2, and a teacher of 15 years, working in Special Education and English Language Arts for grades 7-12. In her youth, her biracial background, upbringing below the poverty line, and depression led to self-consciousness and anxiety. To counter and process this, she learned to embrace inclusivity, empathy, and kindness (as we all can!) Listen here or on any app.
You’re still reading? Cool. I didn’t have anything planned for this space. Maybe we can make a cool pillow fort and play with flashlights while the adults do whatever it is they do in the other room when they tell us all to go away so they can be alone. I wonder what they’re doing. Adults are weird. They never seem capable of putting down those serious things they’re always looking at so they can play with toys and nature and enjoy life. That’s so weird. I hope I don’t grow up and turn into that.
You’re STILL reading? Well, this is sort of all I can do for this week. I do (sort of) have a life, you know. But if you want more, I wrote tons of novels and there’s like thousands of essays that came out before this. A lot of them are even free. Go nuts!