Sunday 04 December 2022

It’s all about the bling

If you take a look at what’s wrong with the world today, from this little rock to the largest countries in the world, you can probably trace it all down to money (and the heady power and influence which comes with it).

Of course, this did not just happen yesterday: the maxim that ‘money is the root of all evil’ has been with us since the beginning of time. In fact, human beings have made these bits of paper such an intrinsic part of their very existence that they have attributed a value to them which is much more ‘valuable’ than the actual currency that they represent.

Think of all the things that people are willing to do for these bits of paper: pimps force women to prostitute their bodies; con artists swindle even their best friends; some politicians sell their souls and some businessmen would even sell their own flesh and blood. All over the world, votes can be “bought”, elections are manipulated and campaigns are funded by powerful lobbies and millionaires who hold the purse strings. Couples who were, once upon a time, oh so in love, end up getting down and dirty, all gloves off, as they viciously fight each other for that one last cent. Betrayal, murder, extortion, fraud, human trafficking, the sale of drugs to addicts on a fatal downward spiral – what has NOT been done for the love of filthy lucre?

Granted, these examples are the extremes, when desperation sets in or when a complete absence of scruples tip people over the edge. I have always wondered though, what the tipping point was in cases like this: at what precise moment in their lives did these people decide to cross the line over to the dark side? For, I think the majority would agree that most people are not born corrupt or simply devoid of a moral code, but that there is usually a process; a gradual erosion of compassion, empathy and knowing the difference between right and wrong, fuelled perhaps by upbringing, perhaps by circumstances, until other people cease to matter and the greed for acquiring this blessed money takes over completely.

Do we work to live or live to work?

Even for those of us who have not tipped over that perilous edge, money (or the lack of it) conditions our choices in life in other ways. Sometimes it is inevitable, especially if you are on a low income working yourself to the bone to earn enough to get by. Where you shop, where you live, whether you can afford to buy a property or are forced to rent, which school you send your children to, and whether you can afford to send them on every school outing – all these decisions are determined by the value of your “worth” in the workplace. If, because of lack of qualifications and skills, the job market has labelled your worth at X per hour, that becomes more than just your pay packet at the end of the month; it almost becomes your identity as, like it or not, in life we do tend to classify people by their social class which is largely based on one’s socio-economic status.

On the either side of the coin, this is why it jars when one sees a certain “type” with no real source of income or at best, on minimum wage, flaunting a flashy car and a lifestyle which just does not tally. Can you blame those who have been honest about declaring their income all their lives for wondering whether they went about it all wrong?

On the next rung of the income ladder you have the middle class who, while living comfortably enough, may also get caught up in the cycle of constantly looking over the fence with envious eyes at those who have much more (or so it seems to them anyway). From my observation, this is where the greatest pitfalls lie because this is a sector of society which can find itself scrambling to keep up with the Joneses at all costs. From fancy children’s parties which become more elaborate each year, to regular socializing and dining out, to expensive private schools, to travelling several times a year. I know there are those who can afford all this easily enough, and it doesn’t even make a dent in their bank account, but I also think that there is a strata of people who are completely out of their depth while trying to maintain the illusion that everything is fine, just fine.

And finally, we have that section of society which lives its life in the heady atmosphere which is enjoyed by those who are just plain rich. These days that could be anyone from a construction magnate, to the business class, to those who are professionals in their respective fields. They have more than anyone could spend in one lifetime, and many have worked very hard to get to where they are, which is to be admired, but those who really fascinate me are those who are still busy trying to amass even more wealth. For some people, making money ends up being not because they need it, but because it becomes an end in itself, and coming up with new projects and business ventures is always their next great challenge which keeps them buzzing. But I have always wondered, just how much is enough? Does it ever get to the point where having huge piles of cash becomes more of an obsession and compulsion rather than a pleasure and satisfaction at having achieved one’s goals?

As much as we need money to live decently, we are always walking that tightrope trying to find a balance between slaving away to earn those bits of paper, and actually having enough free time to enjoy the things in life which those bits of paper can buy. All I know is that, if your life becomes only and purely about the “bling”, surely then you must have lost something of your soul along the way. And no matter where you are on the economic ladder, I think people tend to forget that we are all heading towards the same destiny in the end.

To close with another well-worn cliche, no matter how much you have, you cannot take it with you.

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