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Thursday, June 16, 2011

I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position

Many of us can identify with Mark Twain when he said, "I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position." How about it – would it be dangerous to offer you the position? Dangerous is not the word most modem Americans would associate with the opportunity to be rich. Delightful or delicious, maybe. But dangerous? No way. Here in 21' century America we have bought into the cultural sermon that is preached 24/7/365 — being rich would make you happy, and the richer, the happier. After all, don't the commercials and movies and magazines and music and other cultural messages stress that if you have it all then you have it all?! Only one thing messes up that message and stands in the way of its universal acceptance – human experience. Some of the unhappiest, most miserable people on earth are people who seem on the surface to have it all. The evidence is in, and it proves irrefutably it is possible for people to attain the wildest fantasies of material success and fame and popularity and pleasure, and still fall miserably short of living a happy and fulfilled life. Consider this –what do Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh, Janis Joplin, Kurt Kobain, Lenny Bruce, Virginia Woolf, John Belushi, Elvis Presley (and a host of others that could be named) all share in common? Answer: they were all hugely successful and celebrated people who, measured by standards of fame and fortune, beauty and brains, talent and popularity, all reached the top. Yet, unbelievably, life became so miserable and unmanageable and unbearable for each of them that they all either chose to end their own lives or acted in ways that led to an early, premature death. Their lives remind me of a phrase coined by movie critic Ben Beard to describe the multi-billionaire Howard Hughes whose own life came completely unraveled at the end. Beard said Hughes had a "grand, miserable life." Beard described Hughes as: "Pilot. Genius. Inventor. Moneymaker. Film-maker. Hughes wore a dozen hats and excelled at everything, except living" (Howard Hughes: the Man & His Madness, online article at filmmonthly.com).

A grand, miserable life. Keep that phrase in mind as you read Ecclesiastes 4:8 — "There is one alone, without companion: He has neither son nor brother. Yet there is no end to all his labors, Nor is his eye satisfied with riches. But he never asks, 'For whom do I toil and deprive myself of good?' This also is vanity and a grave misfortune." The message — life at the top may not be all it's cracked up to be, likely proving more lonely than lovely. It may cost more than we ought to pay to get and stay there. And on the way up, I may leave behind the people I love. Financial freedom may come at the price of family and friends. It has for many. Riches may crowd out relationships. A career may take over my life and sever my deepest human connections. I may lose riches money can never buy or replace. John D. Rockefeller summed up the grand, miserable life: "The poorest man I know is the man who has nothing but money." Be careful on your way to the top. Like so many others, you may end up living a grand, miserable life.

Dan Gulley

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