The difference between “more wealth” and “more wealth than.” – Cairns #78

At my TedX talk last year, I said something like “a wise culture holds its rain as high on the slopes as possible” where it can be absorbed by plants and transpired to fall again as rain so that as much solar energy can be brought into the food web as possible.


This led me to think about the difference between “having more wealth” and “having more wealth than.” The first is an absolute measure; the second is comparative. I’ve played the Hand Game with kids before where they have been so conditioned by winning that they can only think in comparison and not see the system as a whole. If we think of “wealth” as “a way of increasing possibilities for oneself,” then all living things seek more “wealth.” But holding the rain on the slopes so that it powers photosynthesis or transpiration to rise into the sky again as free oxygen, or vapor to fall as rain again, is a way of increasing possibilities for the entire system. One could increase one’s comparative water wealth by paving the slopes so that more of the rain ran off into a concentrated reservoir downstream. One could then have more wealth than otherwise, more wealth than others, but at the expense of the greater system.


From a systems point of view, if one uses one’s wealth to increase the possibilities around one, this creates a rising of possibilities that spreads outward, spilling over borders. Your neighbors benefit from your existence and become your allies. Your work becomes easier. (I like to think that the archetypal example of this is a teacher, especially of children: enhancing and developing the gifts and talents each child carries forth into our culture.) However, if you harvest your surroundings to benefit only yourself, then you slowly make enemies. Your work becomes harder. A wise culture is guided by increasing wealth within the greater ecosystem – not on harvesting at the expense of other regions.


Recently, I’ve been part of interviewing several job candidates. At Chrysalis, applicants come in and talk with three or four of us. We have a wide-ranging conversation for half an hour. And then I participated in a job interview with applicants for a position with our sponsoring agency. This job interview was designed by the Human Resources department of the agency, in compliance, I’m sure, with all sorts of policies and guidelines.


There were six written questions. We took turns reading the next question to the applicant. We could repeat the question but if the applicant asked a clarifying question, we couldn’t answer it. We could take notes on the candidate’s answer; all notes were collected afterwards and included as documentation in the hiring process. Follow up questions were not allowed. Afterwards, we rated the applicant’s answers to each question on a scale of 1 to 5 and added the numbers. I now understood why one candidate Chrysalis had interviewed thanked us for a lovely conversation. She said at other interviews, there was no give or take, just a list of questions. I understand now what she was referring to.


And then I learned from a dear one how individuals who were passionate about dance and fitness and had started their own studios were slowly being put out of business by corporations that were starting fitness centers across the country, that hired part-time instructors at low salary. So often politicians talk about businesses as job creators but there are different kinds of businesses, e. g., sole proprietors and corporations. Sole proprietors take on risk, follow their passions, create something unique, probably do job interviews as a conversation. A wise culture nourishes individual initiative. Tax breaks for corporations undermine sole proprietors. Corporate tax breaks are portrayed as pro-business but it is only one category of business, driven by global concentrations of capital, as opposed to dispersed local ecosystems of capital. A wise culture holds the rain high on the slopes.


For several years, I have been exploring this analogy between the flow of rain and runoff with the flow of money within our culture. Through analogy, I explore the idea that a wise culture should slow the rates of flow, keep flows spread out where they can be absorbed and recycled to fall again, increasing possibilities throughout all the local regions. A wise culture does not allow its wealth to flow downstream into great concentrations. Though I began by arguing from analogy, I am increasingly feeling this is more than mere analogy. That money within a culture and water within a watershed are both expressions of some underlying principle involving flows. Slow the flow of possibilities, spread them out so they soak in to nourish and be recycled, rather than converge them upon a narrow focus. Think of “having more wealth” rather than “having more wealth than…”


Just learning how to play with all of this.

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