Wealth is like seawater; the more we have, the thirstier we become, and the same is true of fame
19th November 2020
‘Wealth is like seawater; the more we have, the thirstier we become, and the same is true of fame’. (A.Schopenhauer 11788-60)
This Sunday is the first Sunday of the Christian season of Advent, a season for reflection and waiting. And it is perhaps within this waiting, as RS Thomas wrote in his poem ‘Kneeling’, that meaning will be found.
However far from being a time of reflection all too often Advent heralds a time of conspicuous buying and anticipated consumption as we prepare for Christmas whether we are religious or secular.
I won’t pretend that aspects of this are not highly attractive and it is easy to be swept up in all the glitz of the season, but I’m thinking that things may seem somewhat different this year. In fact faced with the pandemic and economic hardship for so many, a thirst for a consumerist Christmas may not only be harder to attain but also might be considered in poor taste.
Wealth and the consumption of things are something we all desire and there is no doubt that it is important in order to maintain a standard of living for well-being, but there may be a point at which as the quotation says ‘…like sea water, the more we have the thirstier we become’. And at that point far from supporting well-being, it may become destructive of it. We may begin to feel that there is no such thing as enough and fame too has the same allure. Think how difficult life can seem for people who have been in the public eye for a long time, once their popularity wanes. Think perhaps of Donald Trump’s inability to concede the American Presidency! All too often the pursuit of wealth and fame are ego projects and our ego can be insatiable.
And so even more reason to take stock this Advent of the message revealed in the story of Christmas. It is a remarkable story in which there is a reversal of things we usually value. It is a story in which wisdom is born out of poverty and in humble circumstances. There is no conspicuous wealth, no palace, no regal status. It is a story which challenges every assumption of what we consider to be desirable and valuable. A truly counter-cultural story!
It does seem ironic therefore that the message of Christmas is too often undermined in the way it is celebrated. However, alongside this is the injunction to give and this is certainly one way that our wealth and influence can be put to good use. And research has discovered that wealth can indeed bring happiness, provided you use it to better the lives of others…. Just like Scrooge!
We need the hope of Christmas more than ever this year and I know I shall be putting up my lights a little earlier than usual. However we can first take stock during Advent and learn about the true message of Christmas in anticipation and through the waiting.