Have you ever played the “what if I won the lottery” game? You know the one…if I won a million (or more) dollars, what would I do with it? Most people have played either out loud or in the confines of their own head. R and I play probably a couple of times a year. I’m not exactly sure why, since neither one of us has purchased a lottery ticket in our lives, but its fun to think "what if" anyway. The thing is, when you play out loud, your use of the cash is usually far more altruistic in comparison to the in-your-head version:
Out loud: “If I won the lottery I’d pay off the mortgage, buy my parents a house, invest some, and give the rest away to charity."
In-the-head: “If I won the lottery I’d stop by Future Shop the day I picked up the cheque and buy a widescreen high def TV, a surround sound home theatre system, a new computer, an iPod (the real kind, not the wussy 4gig mini version). Then I’d stop by a car dealership and buy a second vehicle. After that I’d…”
You get the picture. When I think of the in-the-head version of the game I recognize the depth of my endless consumerism. Even if I won a million bucks (or two or ten) and could buy everything on my want list, there would still be more stuff to buy…there really is no end to it. Of course, this is the basis for our entire economic system. You are producer, I am consumer. You make cool things that I “need” and I give you the money you need. It’s a great little system until something happens to blow it all away. This leads to the real reason I’m having this conversation – Haiti.
Even through Florida has been hammered by hurricanes over the past six weeks, for the most part, there is still a sense of hope; a feeling of “we’ve lost almost everything but we’re safe and we can get through this.” While I commend the folks in Florida, the residents of Haiti have no government infrastructure to assist them, no benevolent businesses to truck in fresh water and food, no family in other parts of the country to take them in for a few weeks until the insurance company figures everything out. These people have literally nothing. No food, no water, no home, no hope.
Watching the absolute despair in Haiti since Tropical Storm Jeanne passed through has really caused me to consider my own wealth (middle-class by North American status, but ridiculously wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world - check out the Global Rich List to find out where you rank in the world), what I could do if I had the funds to do it, and would I do something if I did have the funds?
I’d like to think, with apologies to the Barenaked Ladies, that if I had a million dollars I wouldn’t buy you a house, or a K-car, or even a green dress. No, I would hope if I had a million dollars I would buy myself the first plane ticket to Haiti and try to do something, anything, to relieve some of the suffering; to bring some help and some hope.
For possibly the first time in my life I think I have come to understand in a tangible way that wealth is not a bad thing in and of itself. Great wealth can bring great good. Even the Bill Gates’ and Charles Bronfman’s among us have no reason to be ashamed of their great wealth in and of itself; it is after all, the love of money that is the root of all evil. That being said, those of us who are wealthy, be it by world standards or by North American standards, have a responsibility to care for those who can’t care for themselves. I’d love to be able to fly down to Haiti and help people one by one, but I can’t because I’m not North American wealthy. What I can do is dig into my own funds, the cash I’ve been setting aside to buy a new computer or whatever, and spend it on someone somewhere who really needs it. Care for the poor and the widows Jesus said. Sounds easy, until I realize that caring for the poor means the shiny new iMac I’ve been eyeing will have to wait. And when it comes to me and my stuff, I don’t like waiting.