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I just read a piece addressing the common ambition that American children have to grow up and “get rich.” The writer of this piece wrote a logical argument for why that’s a worthy ambition, something to be encouraged in children.

I have something to say about this, having been both rich and poor. I joke that between rich and poor, rich is better, but let’s look at it for a minute.

Let’s look, that is, at the feeling of wanting wealth. What is that feeling? Is that a desire for safety, for immunity from danger and uncertainty, for prestige, for pleasure, for power? What’s driving that desire? The quality of wanting determines the outcome. If you want money and power in order to help the less fortunate, your desire for riches is of a different quality from a personal craving for luxury, it seems to me.

Approaching this issue with logic misses that pivotal quality.

There are societal pressures we take for granted as given principles of life that vary greatly in intensity from culture to culture, but human self interest is pretty constant. If your society is organized so that you never have to worry about your basic needs, you may be less tempted by dreams of great wealth. But if your culture treats people without money badly, you may want money just to avoid bad treatment.

Some people love the game of wealth-building more than the wealth itself. It’s like a card game where strategy and tactics win the day. Others may prefer the trappings of privilege and prestige that money bestows. Seen from the outside, that looks like an easy life, but human angst is not so easily defeated.

Having lived in cultures where the rich are not held up as heroes as they are in America, I think it’s interesting to find out what’s behind the notion that money is the answer. What are the questions to which money is the best answer?

Might the real answers to this question involve kindness, care and connection more than money?

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