‘The wealth which enslaves the owner is not wealth’. (Yoruba people Nigeria)
‘Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of ecosystems’. (Sustainable Development Goal 15)
HOM: Managing Impulsivity
At this time of year, as we enter the Christian season of Advent, it seems right that we consider our responsibilities towards others and how we might responsibly use our wealth. But what does it mean to be wealthy? It can mean to be wealthy of material goods but it also can mean to have well-being and to be prosperous in a non-material sense, such as that derived from wisdom or love. However, if what you have in abundance ends up controlling you then you are not wealthy at all. The proverb of the Yoruba people therefore asks us to consider the true riches we should be aiming for, including temperance, kindness and generosity.
In the coming week the Remove are going to see a version of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, which is an excellent literary example illustrating how wealth can enslave an individual.
It is a tale we are all familiar with and that has been presented in many forms, including a memorable ‘Muppet’s Christmas Carol’ and Disney’s ‘Scrooge McDuck!’ However, for all that familiarity it continues to offer an important moral lesson about our relationship to material wealth and the very meaning of ‘wealth’ itself. For further commentary on its meaning I turn to the commentary by Wesley Gant:
A Christmas Carol is a story about a man who has abandoned every opportunity to build meaningful relationships with those around him because he has become chained to an idol. Ebenezer’s particular idol happened to be money. He worked for it, hoarded it and measured everything—and everyone—by it. His every action was determined by whether or not it brought him gain—a rational, calculating approach, but one that was unable to fulfil his true needs as a human.
As time wore on, loneliness led to bitterness and back again. The Spirits did not come merely to make him generous, but to restore his life by removing this idol. The Spirits force Scrooge to view his own life and that of others through a new perspective. He is reminded of the joys of his childhood, and the love of his youth. He shown people in meagre situations who manage to find warmth and fellowship in good company. He watches as he gains material wealth, but loses his friends, his fiancé and a little sister, who had a son before her death. It is this very nephew – the only family Scrooge has left – whose friendship he rejects time and time again. When finally faced with his name on a tombstone, it is not death itself that terrifies Scrooge, nor the prospect of sharing Marley’s fate. What renders Ebenezer Scrooge so repentant is the fear of having never truly lived. He pleads that he is changed; he promises to “live in the past, present and future.”
This is not about money—it is about recognizing the value of our human connectedness, to our family, our community and even to our former and future selves. Scrooge’s lesson was that no amount of money could buy happiness, and that love and friendship are worth more than all the material goods a person could acquire in a lifetime. In the end, we find a man not only more generous – a sign that he no longer worships at the altar of profit – but one who is more genial and eager for a good laugh. Thus, he is liberated in both life and death.
The story compels us to consider how we treat the poor and the responsibility we have towards them. We are encouraged to embrace a selfless spirit of giving on Christmas and year round. But it should also make us consider the truly important things in life, and how easily they are tossed aside as we seek our own goals. It should remind us that material gain, for all of its very real benefits, does not compare to the richness and happiness found in sharing our hopes, fears and good humour with those around us. It should teach us that our pursuit of prosperity exists for greater ends, and is not an end in itself.’
This Advent we can once again reflect on the lessons of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and choose to nurture our responsibility towards others and the way in which we use any wealth we may possess.