Do you want to be rich?

Ask that question to a group of people. What kind of answers will you get? How do you answer the question?

There are, of course, a lot of ways to define “rich.” Today, let’s focus on rich in the sense of material wealth, possessions and influence. Is it good or bad to be rich? Is it good or bad to aspire to be rich?

In 2011 Zuccotti Park in New York City’s financial district was the focus of a widely recognized social protest against economic inequality. It became known as “Occupy Wall Street.” Frequent references came from the occupiers about “the one percent.” By most definitions, the one percent are “the rich.”

Before the Occupy Wall Street experience, and certainly since, I sense that some people are uneasy about the idea of personal wealth. Some demographic groups more than others seem to shun or renounce wealth. In a discussion of wealth or of the concept of getting rich, I hear frequent and commendable reference to “giving back” and to “making a difference.” These are offered as alternatives to wealth, as if the choices to do good and to do well are mutually exclusive.

Not only recently, but over the course of world history, there are vivid examples of the use of material riches for bad (really bad) outcomes. The news media is reputed to use the phrase, “If it bleeds, it leads.” There is a tendency to highlight the worst and to de-emphasize the good. It’s easier to focus on the lurid, the negative, the tragically sensational. Is that why being rich has become an increasingly bad thing?

Being rich progressively removes limitations and controls to which most people are subject. Being wealthy expands choices and opportunities. The range of choices for most people is limited and tied to where they have shelter and where and how they earn money. Most people don’t have the option to choose a different city, state, country or continent where they will eat and sleep tomorrow. Once a person is no longer required to do something every day to ensure that they can get food and shelter, options emerge.

Options. Choices. Alternatives.

Let’s re-ask the question from the beginning and replace the concept of “rich” with the concept of choice or options. Do you want more options?  Would you like to have more available choices? Most (not all) of the apprehension people might feel or express about being rich or wealthy disappears when the concept is expressed in terms of choices or options.

What, then, is the challenge that many people have about being rich?

Money is neither good or bad. Money is a tool, a resource or a raw material. Like any tool or resource, it can be misused and abused. It is certain that an abundance of money has the tendency to reveal the true nature of the person with the money. Being rich tends to magnify the character of the person.

What good things do you want to do? Who do you want to help? What changes in society would you like to be part of? How do you want to live? Your time, influence and your wealth are the means you have to achieve those dreams. Your time is limited. If you have more wealth, your opportunities to do well and to affect good grow and so does your influence and ability to attract the time, influence and wealth of others.

One of my friends is fond of saying, “If you love money and use people, you’ve got it wrong. If you love people and use money, you’ve got it right.”

A good foundation for your material possessions starts with knowing clearly what you want and what you want to do. It also starts with fundamental respect for others and for yourself. There is no room for believing the worth of another person is attached to the quantity or lack of their material possessions.

Riches are a tool. Wealth provides opportunities and options. What kind of a person are you? A desire to be rich, in the hands of enough good people, changes their community and changes the world.

Let’s eliminate the stigma around being rich. Rich isn’t good or bad. It is the person that makes it one or the other. What many people lack is a clear and determined plan for their life, including an idea of what material wealth they want to accumulate and how they want to use it.

Ironically, most of us have some wealth and potential wealth flow through our lives. It is enough in many cases to “make a difference” if we will use it with purpose. The issue, in my mind, is how purposeful do you want to make your life? How will you use what you have? And, will you plan to create and accumulate more wealth than you already have?  Along the way, you’ll make some mistakes. Welcome to humanity. Do better next time. Get up from the fall and move ahead.

Good rich or bad rich? It isn’t the “rich” that should be the question. My overall experience is that the creation of wealth and the use of wealth have the potential to spread and increase wealth in general. It can be the rising tide that lifts all boats. Done right, wealth is not a limited resource that reduces another’s portion when someone gets their piece.

Do you want to do good? Wealth is one of the ways to make that happen. It’s OK if you don’t want to pursue material affluence. At the same time, let’s not discourage or criticize others who pursue riches to accomplish good. We need a healthier attitude toward material prosperity. We need more people who live their lives with clear purpose to get and to use wealth to further good causes. Call it: Cause Capitalism.

I’m going to believe that you are a good person. So, let me ask the question again. Do you want to be rich?  It’s OK to say, “Yes!”

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