Above Photo: From kosmosjournal.org
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As a novelist, I used to think that true wealth lay simply in the scrawl of words across a blank sheet of scrap paper and along hours of uninterrupted quiet. A solid roof over my head, a pot of hot tea, and a hummus sandwich rounded out my list of “true wealth” . . . or so I thought.
However, one cold and snowy winter in the high desert of Northern New Mexico, as I wrote Billionaire Buddha, a fictional retelling of former multi-millionaire Dariel Garner’s life story, I began to think of wealth differently. That snowy winter, I began to see my monetary wealth as being bound up with the monetary wealth of all others.
Our society, communities, knowledge, beliefs, practices, culture, arts, stories, myths, philosophies, psychologies, healing arts, education, innovation, expression, and connection are all forms of common wealth that humanity either builds together . . . or depletes and destroys. I regard these as part of my “true wealth”, and they are all intimately tied to the wellbeing of others. Our common wealth of culture and community is connected to each person’s ability to create, invent, express, live, breathe, heal, nurture, and explore. If my fellow human beings do not have the time or opportunity for these experiences, the “richness” of my own life within our culture and society diminishes.
And, as I wrote in the Billionaire Buddha, our fellow humans are only one small sliver of the total equation. Our human existence is reliant on a vast network of living systems. In this time of climate crisis, our fate is tied up with the vitality or demise of all other species of plants and animals that co-create the ecosystems upon which our own existence depends. No amount of fortune is worth anything on a dead planet. Our human wealth relies on the “wealth and prosperity” of the forests, oceans, plains, rivers, skies, glaciers, mountains, deserts, lakes, and so on. Buddhist perspective (on one level) rests on an understanding of the interconnected web of existence. We make true wealth together or not at all.
We have arrived at a moment in human history where the accumulation of vast personal monetary and material wealth must be rigorously critiqued. Concentrated personal wealth, we have seen, has often come at the expense of social, cultural, ecological, and common wealth. Our ecological systems, cultural beliefs and practices, connections and community, creativity and ingenuity have often been devalued if they are not chained to making profits for personal fortunes.”
Yet, these other forms of wealth, including health, wellbeing, spiritual wisdom, contentment and life satisfaction, love and nurturing of one another’s expression, provide a fabric of resilience and beauty for human beings. We are extraordinary creatures who cannot be defined by bank accounts or net worth. It is time to reinvest in the common wealth – the vibrancy of the many systems that help humanity flourish.
Historically, the rise of massive individual wealth has been accompanied by the destruction of many forms of common wealth through conquest, colonization, cultural destruction, enclosures of the commons and subsequent impoverishment and displacement, wars, invasions, genocides, slavery, indentured servitude, wage-slavery and overworking, oppression, and massive waves of emigrations due to economic upheavals. This has happened not just throughout Europe and European colonization cycles, but also in the Middle East and throughout Africa and Asia.
It is a trend that continues to this day, as we witness the rise of unprecedented oligarchs in control of transnational corporations at a time when poverty is growing and the ecological wealth of our planet has been so assaulted and diminished that we hang on the edge of collapse.
There is no substitute for common wealth. True wealth, we are finding, lies not in vast personal fortunes, nor even solely in the personal inner wealth of inner peace, connection, love, community, spiritual awareness, etc., but rather it lies in balance with vibrant systems of common wealth that support the needs of all people and the planet. At this critical juncture of human history, it is necessary for those of us with personal monetary or material wealth, or personal spiritual and inner wealth, to put our resources in service of restoring our common wealth.
And here lies a hopeful and unexpected note: there are many indications that people are figuring this out. There are members of the 1% who see that concentrated personal wealth is leading to instability in our world, both ecologically and economically. People throughout the 100% are speaking up for the need to build greater resilience in our communities, to initiate cooperatives and systems of sharing resources, and to protect and rebuild the natural systems of the planet that keeps us all alive.
Dariel Garner, our friend Chuck Collins, and I work on a project called Live Share Grow: A Movement for the 100% which engages everyone in rebalancing personal and common wealth in practical ways. We work with people to shift all forms of wealth – monetary, ecological, spiritual, inner, creative, education, knowledge, invention, community, health and well-being, philosophy, psychological, cultural – into this effort to find ways to rebalance and rebuild the true wealth of our communities. Concentrated monetary wealth, especially, can be applied to these goals to create a healthier, safer, and more stable, loving and nurturing world for us all.
Since that snowy winter when I wrote Billionaire Buddha, I’ve come to realize that the wellbeing of my readers and myself are intimately interconnected, and true wealth is something we create together. It is broader than money, and deeper than individual spiritual understandings. It is a resplendent web of human connection, entwined with the vibrancy of the rest of the natural world. In the Billionaire Buddha, and in my work with Live Share Grow, I try to express the almost inconceivable beauty of true wealth that awaits us as we make this shift. We have lived under the delusions of individual wealth for a long time, but now is the time to awaken into the incredible potential of what can happen when we invest in the wellbeing of the whole.