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The things money can’t buy

We are obsessed with, fixated on and deranged by money in this country. From the top dogs to the little mutts – all seem to wake up with just one overwhelming thought in mind: “how do I lay my hands on more money?”

Money, we think, is the escape from poverty and misery and the path to happiness and peace of mind. Money is respect and status. Kenyans adore those with money. And because we don’t seem to worry about how money is acquired, all means are acceptable. Including fraud, theft, deception, betrayal and violence.

But what exactly is it we think we get when we get money? No doubt about it: money matters. It does indeed release us from the many indignities of poverty. Being financially self-sufficient allows us to crawl out from under the thumbs of those who hold us down. There is great liberation in having your own money, to spend as you please. Money allows us to fulfil the obligations we all have to our families, particularly our children. And of course money allows us to have many more material experiences that would otherwise be unavailable to us: fine meals, interesting holidays, nice attire.

Who wouldn’t want all that? I do not deride your desire to have more money; it’s a very powerful force in your life.

But, but, but…

What we fail to do is keep money in its place. It matters, but it is not everything. It is not the magical key that unlocks a magical kingdom. It will open doors for you, no doubt – but what’s waiting beyond those doors should also worry you. The best way to think about this is to understand the crucial things that money does NOT buy.

First, clichéd but true: money does not buy friendship. It buys attention and sycophancy for sure, but real friendship? Never. Those who appear to be your friends because you have money have no attachment to you. None. They are attached to your money. If your money is not available to them, they go. Simple. You will never buy the unconditional bond of friendship with money, period. You will sink like a stone from people’s thoughts if you were only there because of your money.

Money won’t buy you peace of mind. It might buy a very comfortable bed and a nice house in a quiet neighbourhood and a platoon of aides and guards, but that is not the same as peace of mind. That comes from within. It comes from acceptance and calmness. People scrabbling incessantly for the next dollar (or next million dollars) are in fact the least likely to find peace of mind. They may look calm and collected, but the inside is a furnace of stress.

Money won’t buy taste. It can buy you interior designers and brand consultants and exclusive attire, but taste? That’s a whole different thing. Taste comes from high personal standards and from a strong sense of balance and coherence. Very rich people are the least likely to have taste. They don’t develop it; they just buy the external manifestations of it. Inside, they’re still the same tasteless bumpkins they started off being.

Money can’t buy you discernment. The ability to tell great from merely good; honesty from trickery; true decency from PR; character from brand; these are all elements of discernment. It is a vital ability of life to be able to separate wheat from chaff. Again, you can’t buy it. You can buy advice, but you can’t buy the x-ray vision you need. That comes from learning life’s lessons constructively.

Lastly, money won’t buy you wisdom. It is in fact very, very rare to find a wise rich person. Have you ever paid attention to the advice of the really rich? It’s usually shallow and self-serving nonsense. They are usually feeding their own egos and own interests. Wisdom means working for the greater good for the longer term. Most of our rich do the exact opposite: they work for their own benefit for the immediate future. Most rich people buy social responsibility; they don’t feel it.

So there you are. If money won’t buy friendship, peace of mind, taste, discernment or wisdom, why are we all killing ourselves (and others) to get it? It makes life more comfortable, but never more meaningful. Those who know this put money in its correct place. They use it without worshipping it. A life of meaning is not a life of personal riches; it is a life of reflection, compassion and engagement.

(Sunday Nation, 24 April 2016)

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