From time immemorial, the Indian civilization has valued knowledge more than wealth. The penniless Brahmin was higher up the social order than the powerful king and the successful merchant. But in the past century or so, the idea of having wealth for its own sake gained currency. This phenomenon led to the creation of two hitherto unknown archetypes of the wealthy:
The Furtively Wealthy: People with ill-gotten gains fall in this category. They hoard their wealth in secret silos and spend it behind closed doors. They share their pride only in whispers.
The vulgarly wealthy: These are people who own private jets and yachts, palatial mansions and private islands. The weddings of their loved ones create traffic jams in our cities. As far as the masses are concerned, these ostentatious consumers are the truly wealthy, and they can create the misconception that wealth exists for its own sake.
Both the furtively wealthy and the vulgarly wealthy reinforce the natural tendency of Indians to distrust the rich. After all, great wealth is accompanied by great power and the ability to break societal norms. As a result, whenever a wealthy person is accused of wrongdoing – be it in a boardroom or in a road accident – the masses tend to treat the accusation as the truth. Their latent hostility towards the wealthy manifests on such occasions. At the same time, most of us Indians want to be rich. What does that make us? A nation with a peculiar collective ambition. We all want to become the person we secretly loathe today.
It’s high time for India to seek a new interpretation of exceptional wealth.
Thankfully, hundreds of our fabulously rich have been laying the foundations of such an interpretation. The Tatas, the Jains, Premji, the Murthys and the others of their ilk have acquired wealth ethically and use it for the larger good. Many of them lead frugal lifestyles and none of them derive their entire personal identity from their wealth. In fact, they desire to solve long-standing social challenges and build institutions. For instance, one person of this ilk is leaving behind his entire property to further long-term research projects undertaken by proven academicians.
Such people are ambassadors of the term Wise Wealth.
It is crucial for India – a nation riddled with stark economic inequalities and rampant unemployment – to create more people who follow the Wise Wealth model for several reasons:
1. Clean acquisition Our civilization is yet to fully recover from the plunder of invading forces. For centuries, marauding and/or manipulating seemed to be the only paths to wealth. Now, our youth can aspire for a more wholesome path. A path that makes neither our rich guilty nor our poor angry.
2. Endurance and Long-lasting qualities
Wannabe Wealth advocates scheme to get rich and famous quickly. As a result, it doesn’t endure the vagaries of market cycles. Wise Wealth advocates, on the other hand, take a long-term perspective, valuing quality over quantity and holism over parochialism. The wise wealthy build institutions that stand the test of time. Our ambitious youth will do well to emulate the patience epitomised by Wise Wealth.
3. Caution and Inconspicuousness
The Wannabe Wealthy seek adulation from the media, and since their vision is either hollow or insincere, they later try to escape the scrutiny of the media. On the other hand, Wise Wealth has no fear of scrutiny nor any desire to be conspicuous. It shuns glitz and glamour. So our youth can learn that the Wise Wealth model is the exact opposite of a reality TV show. It actively avoids drama.
Indians are struggling to find potable water, clean air and sanitation facilities for all our people. Meanwhile, climate change scientists suggest that the human species is tottering towards extinction. Evidently, this isn’t the time to practise over-the-top consumption. Seen in this light, our wisely wealthy can be role models for society. When Wise Wealth becomes the de facto model for humankind, none of us will want to prove that we “have arrived”. In the process, we shall also redefine happiness and fulfillment in non-materialistic terms.
Moreover, Wise Wealth, by its very definition, erodes at a lower rate and leaves more behind for everybody else. You will notice that the wisely wealthy get involved in sustainable initiatives for social change – they want to be remembered for having bettered the world with their presence.
I can think of no other idea that equals Wise Wealth’s ability to enable society and offer a higher sense of purpose to the individual. In many ways, Wise Wealth is a return to our core values. We have always liked moderation and we have never worshiped wealth for its own sake. We have forever aspired to be a wisely wealthy nation. It’s now time to convert that aspiration into reality.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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