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Rethinking Wealth—Redefining “More”

I was working on materials to teach children about our natural wealth using weaving. As I rolled the word “wealth” around in my mind, I realized there are so many assumptions we’ve wrapped up in this word.

One assumption, in Western society at least, is that we tend to think of wealth in terms of money. But actually money is simply a symbol of wealth. Another assumption is that we tend to think of wealth as “more”—more than I have.

But is “more” truly wealth?

The more-ness of wealth

Let’s take shoes, for example. We want to protect our feet from cold weather and rough surfaces, so we buy shoes. Maybe one pair of shoes provides that protection. Maybe, where you live, it’s warm enough that you don’t need shoes. Or maybe the change in seasons in your region is dramatic enough that you need several pairs of shoes.

Then there are different activities and different occasions. The running shoes I wear on the track really don’t work very well in the office at work. Then there’s comfort and beauty and craftsmanship and… there are a lot of different reasons for buying shoes.

So you buy the shoes you need for the different occasions and activities and seasons of your life. But you want more. So you buy more shoes. Pretty soon your closet is full. But that’s okay because you have another closet. So you buy more shoes. After awhile, that closet is full too and your bedroom fills up with shoes. Now there’s no place to sleep. But you want more, so you buy more shoes. Pretty soon the house is filled with shoes and there’s no room for you and your family. Sure, you could buy a bigger house and still buy more shoes. But at some point, you end up with more shoes than you can possibly wear.

This is a silly story that takes it to the extreme, but you get the point: with shoes there’s a limit to the benefit that “more” provides.

But we humans are aspirational. We long for more. We’re hardwired for more. So what do we do?

What happens when we redirect that drive for more?

Shifting our focus

Let’s say Jane is a bright child who likes to build with blocks. First she lays the blocks end to end to form long chains. Then she learns how to stack the blocks on top of one another to form walls. She learns what it takes to balance the blocks to make her walls higher. As she gets older, she starts learning to use tools to shape wood pieces and fasten them together. She learns to use a saw and hammer and screwdriver. A while later, she learns how to use power tools to make even more precise shapes. She learns to use a table saw and a planer and a drill press. Pretty soon she’s building furniture. She makes a chair and it’s functional, but she wants it to be better. So she learns to sand the wood until it’s smooth. She learns about different wood stains and paints. She learns about using steam to bend the wood to form curves. She learns about different species of wood and where those trees grow. She learns which woods are better for specific projects. As she learns, her skills improve and she becomes a master at her craft. She creates beautiful furniture that people love to use. And still she keeps learning.

This “more” doesn’t have a limit. Jane can keep learning about wood the rest of her life and still not exhaust all there is to know. Not only that, she can share what she’s learning with others and suddenly her own “more” multiplies. These people catch her enthusiasm and embark on their own learning about wood. When they come back and share with Jane the new techniques they’ve learned elsewhere, everyone’s “more” increases.

What kind of "more"?

This is the thing… as we start to rethink wealth, we also need to rethink “more”. More of what? Is this “more” moving us forward? Or does this “more” have a natural limit? Is this “more” creating a prison for us? Or is it a “more” that gives us wings?

Maybe wealth is the discernment to know the difference between the two.

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