We all have started out with some level of privilege.
Whether it’s the privilege of being born in a middle class home, being born tall or extremely good looking, or even just being born in a country where water was clean, food was plentiful, and security was assured.
And it from this point that we strive. We strive to “climb up”, to accomplish, to do better for ourselves than where we started.
This is a good impulse, but it comes with a concern.
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The floor and the ladder
Suppose you grew up poor or of modest means. Most people have the desire to improve their financial situation regardless of their starting point.
And as we climb, making more money, becoming more comfortable, having more choices, being able to accomplish more and more, there is hopefully a sense of satisfaction there.
But just like climbing a long ladder, something happens once you’re far enough off the floor: you may be unable to stop looking down.
You see, there are those who gain from money only the fear of losing it. And it is very easy to get to this place.
And that is a very sad and unfortunate place to be. If all you’ve gained is fear, have you really gained anything of value? I think it would be better to have not climbed at all, to have stayed on the floor, comfortable with your situation, and without the fear of loss.
Fear of loss makes you constrict, turn inward, turn away. That isn’t what we want for anyone with some manner of wealth, much less ourselves.
What about love?
Most of us spend so much of our lives looking for love, looking to be seen and accepted. In a strange way, we’re looking for home.
Love is hard to find. And it can be fleeting. Many of us read Tom Robbins’ Still Life With Woodpecker in the hope that he would be able to answer the question he posed in the book: “How do you make love stay?”
(And many of us were more than a little frustrated when we read responses like this: “Tell love you are going to Junior’s Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if loves stays, it can have half. It will stay.“)
But suppose you are one of the lucky ones who found love in your life. The real, big, overwhelming love, the one where you don’t feel the desire to push things “forward“, but one where growing closer becomes natural and obvious, even after years of knowing someone.
There’s that ladder again. Once you’re up on that ladder, you can run the risk of only looking down.
There are those who gain from love only the fear of losing it.
Instead of holding a partner close because that is what feels right, you cling, desperate to keep that person from going away. And over time, that may ironically lead the other person to feel like they aren’t being seen authentically. As Lloyd Dobler once asked “Are you here because you need someone, or you need me? Forget it, I don’t care.”
That is an awful line. I want someone to want me. I want someone who would rather be alone than be with someone who doesn’t feel right.
But I have been there before. I once was in love with someone who felt like she was the only person who would ever love me. And I clung to her in fear. I was up the ladder, and all I did was look down. It was an awful place to be and I did her a a great injustice.
Don’t look down
So how do you not look down?
Well, let’s forget about ourselves for a second. What would you want to see in someone else who was wealthy?
I would want them to be generous and humble. To realize that why they had some agency in their success, that there were other forces at work too. I’m not necessarily talking about the divine here, only that, like privilege, so much is not up to us.
What would you want to see in someone who had found that kind of big overwhelming love?
It’s pretty much the exact same thing.
“Generous” in a money context means “to spread largess around”. In a love context, it means “to open your heart to others”. When your heart is full, you can do that.
And humble just means that you don’t claim to know the machinations of the world that caused you to find your love.
What does all of this boil down to? Intentional gratitude.
As I’ve written before, there are two ways to be grateful:
- Remain aware that what you have today you once did not have.
- Remain aware that what you have today you may not have tomorrow.
When you know that yesterday was not as good as today, and there’s a chance that tomorrow might not be as good as today, it’s a lot easier to live without fear. You can’t control the ways of the world. Holding on to the ladder tightly may have no effect, so you may as well enjoy the view.
But enough about me. What do you fear losing?