Copyright © 2012 Ed Bagley
If you could choose only one, would you rather have money, power, fame or health? And why?
Most of us have had our share of ups and downs in life.
When we were at our lowest point, we probably wondered how different our life would be if we suddenly came into some found money, or increased influence, or instant and intense attention, or lost weight without real focus and discipline.
The tendency to think our future would change is irresistible. But would it change for the better?
Here’s my take on whether it’s smarter—given the opportunity—to choose money, power, fame or health:
Let’s start with money because “it makes the world go round’. Money can do a lot of things. It can make your creditors vanish. It can make lenders suck up to you. It can cause much poorer people to buy you dinner just to be in your company.
It can get you the best table at a restaurant on the waterfront with a view. It can get you a luncheon meeting with a celebrity or a top-end producer.
Money can also bring some unwanted attention. It attracts all manner of “gorgeous” suitors to your side, begging with eager eyes and huge mounds to put some bang into your evening. It can also bring tax problems and IRS agents, eager to take away your newfound cash.
It can bring friends and relatives you never had, with sob stories about how they need your cash more than you do. They will be the ones who will love you the most when they want the money, and then hate you the most when you don’t give it to them.
Even if you win millions in the lottery, the reality is that too many lottery winners lose the money they have not earned because they have never been taught or learned how to keep and grow money. Most lottery winners are like drunken sailors on leave, they use their six months at sea figuring how to spend all of their money on wants rather than needs.
Unfortunately, money seldom brings us anything of substance that really matters. Money cannot buy us happiness. Money cannot buy us love. Money cannot buy us health. The people without money can enjoy the simple pleasures of life just as easily as those with money–like sunrises, sunsets, walks in the park, playing board games, spending time with family and friends, working up a sweat exercising, reading a good book, or watching a movie or live theater.
Someone first said that the best things in life are free. And have you ever thought that if you won big bucks in the lottery, it would deprive you of the satisfaction of making it in the world on your own? There is something important to be said about working hard and achieving your goals by clear thinking and sweat equity.
When it is difficult to earn money, you are not so anxious to spend it recklessly. When gifted or loaned money, it slips through your hands like a hot knife through butter.
Power is another matter. Power suggests influence and creates a welcome bed for wrong-doing. People with perceived power tend to use it for ill-gotten personal aggrandizement.
Daniel Webster had this to say about power: “Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”
Power among high-level bureaucrats is almost legendary, as many of them become dictators. Even low-level bureaucrats like to lord it over the citizens they should be serving rather than aggravating. Should you question their use of power, you might be subjected to a bevy of bureaucrats ready to do you substantial harm. All pigs eat out of the same trough.
Politicians on both sides of the fence tend to eat each other alive when in power. They think nothing of launching a Congressional investigation into a minor happening and, when both sides are in agreement to their benefit, they ignore inquiry into a major issue, such as taking a pay raise in a down economy while raising taxes to continue salary increases and benefits for their fellow government staff members and supporters.
The effect of power among high-level military officers and law enforcement officers is no less so, and they carry and use guns and associated weapons.
Lord Acton, an English historian, said “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Man, was he ever right. More than one inquiring soul has learned that it is best not to upset a high-level righteous bureaucrat, politician, military officer or law enforcement officer.
When I was managing editor of the daily newspaper in Westfield, Massachusetts, Teddy Kennedy and his handlers ALWAYS came calling for my endorsement during an election year. When I owned and operated a newspaper publishing company, many local citizens thought I had a power position in the community because of the newspaper I published.
When they told me so, I reminded them that the only power I had was what they thought I had; virtually all of them had no idea what I was talking about.
In truth, people are about as powerful as we believe them to be. When people in a power position start killing people and ruining the lives of others, their power becomes a lot more obvious.
There is also great danger in being powerful as someone always wants to kill you to replace you, and many a dictator has met death on his way to the forum. When you live by the sword, you can just as easily die by the sword.
Clearly, power is a dangerous game and, when combined with money, becomes toxic to control—the propensity to do wrong (and get caught) is all but inevitable.
And then there is fame. Andy Warhol coined the phrase “15 minutes of fame”, wherein a person experiences a short-lived, fleeting moment of publicity or celebrity that melts away faster than a dewdrop in the hot morning sun.
An example happened recently to a woman in New Jersey who went to the tanning booth so often she looked more like a deep-fried Twinkie than a responsible adult. All you need to know is that the “15 minutes of notoriety” did not cure her need to go to the tanning salon and, once informed, people quickly forgot about her.
There are several attention-getters willing to commit stupid pranks or even heinous crimes just to get noticed. Hollywood types who have fallen out of favor will do literally anything, even absurd behavior, just to get back into the news; they figure even bad news is better than no news, and they are absolutely right, too many of us are drawn to stupid behavior because it fools us into thinking it makes us look smarter for not having done so.
It has been said than fame is a fickle suitor. Once lost, it never seems the same again. Fame also comes to those who least expect it. There are a number of famous professional athletes who were stocking grocery shelves and three weeks later were playing the big leagues. It almost seems unfair that fame can come to you unannounced and then leave as suddenly as it arrived.
Some people can’t wait for fame to arrive, and others are upset when it does. Fame, even for 15 minutes, can be overwhelming, and fame that lasts can be unrelenting, presenting an opportunity and a paycheck for the paparazzi.
Health is given and can also be taken away. Some of us are born with a genetic makeup that allows us talent, intelligence and longevity, and, should we take advantage of the opportunities that life serves up, we can reap great benefits. This great possibility is cast against a youngster who, through no fault of his own, contracts and dies of cancer during a single-digit existence.
While we can contribute to our well-being through regular exercise, eating wisely and avoiding obvious dangers, a good half of who we are is genetic and cannot be influenced by our behavior, attitude or will. We are at the mercy of life itself, or a higher power when you develop a spiritual awareness and choose to believe in a greater power.
That said, I believe I would choose health over money, power or fame. At the very least, without health I probably would not be a candidate for money, fame or power given my own volition and means.
In its best state, health allows me to enjoy life without significant money, fame or power. Sometimes it is better to be the captain of your own rowboat than a 5th mate on an ocean liner. Good health allows you to be self-sufficient, independent, responsible and accountable for your own actions. I really determine my own success or failure. I can really only control myself, and even not then when I lose my health.
I would rather lose money, fame and power than my health. Should I lose money, fame or power, it can be potentially gained back again through focus, hard work and determination. Health, once lost, is never regained. Should you lose your eyesight, it will be gone forever.
Give me health, something to do, someplace to go and someone to love, and I will be happy, because people are, as Abe Lincoln has said, about as happy as they want to be.
Never forget that when we blame others for our condition in life, we give up our ability to change. Worse yet, if we lack the will for change, there is no one who can show us the way. We can only become better by being willing to change, and making better choices in doing so.