My son and I went to the beach yesterday and as we emerged from the water he scooped up two handfuls of sand. “Imagine if I had a million dollars for every grain of sand in my hand,” he said.
Curious, and determined to be non-judgemental or parent-y, both of which are a fast track to killing curiosity, I asked him what he’d do with the money if he had it.
“I’d pay off my debts,” he said, which is a good start seeing as how he’s recently managed to run up a rather large debt to his parents with his in-app purchases. “Then I’d pay off everyone else’s debts, first my family, and then everyone else in the world.”
“Who would give you $1 million for each of your grains of sand?”
“How would you do your handouts?”
“With magic, they could come home from work, and if they owed say, $4500, there would be $4500 on their kitchen table from The Genie, they could pay back their debts and not have to worry about them anymore.”
“Who do you think might benefit most from your kindness?” I asked as we tramped over the dunes back to the car. “Imagine this, if you were a desperately poor farmer from India or Africa and you owed so much money on your farm that you could never, ever hope to repay it, how would someone like you and your Genie paying off your debt change your life?”
“Wow,” he said, stooping to pick up his towel, “Wow, do people stay in debt for their entire lives? I’d hate that. It’d be a pretty big deal for them wouldn’t it?”
For an eleven-year-old from a comfortable life in the burbs to relate to a life overwhelmed by unrepayable debt is a big leap of imagination. The idea of abject poverty didn’t feel real to me either until many years later as a thinking adult, and it’s not as if I had a comfortable, sheltered upbringing in the burbs either. Until we immerse ourselves in other peoples’ poverty, it feels something like a movie, engaging and emotive but somehow not quite tangible.
Our conversation has stayed with me overnight and is still ticking away at the back of my mind. As I get older and more reflective, I’m starting to feel more and more uncomfortable with the balance of wealth and power in the world, but I’m not yet entirely sure what our role is in the process or what to do about it so am simply letting it sit there, unresolved. For now.
This week on the home front, Rory and I are planning to run through our family spending patterns and review our donations, discretionary spend, and attitudes towards our family financial security. Frankly I’d rather flop on the couch with a glass of red and binge watch House of Cards, but am nevertheless optimistic we can both take a chill pill and do it calmly. Having worked with many couples in the past I’ve yet to meet a couple who ARE entirely aligned and can snort and guffaw over money matters together.
On the home front, both Rory and I have changed our career directions and find ourselves both self-employed, and not entirely by design. How much obligation do we have to the rest of the world when our reins are tightening to support the choices we have made for the family right here under our roof? Do we cut our dollar donations and ease the financial pressure a little? It will be out soon.
In my musings, I do know it is incumbent on us who live in the developed world to do two things:
- Be grateful for the choice to be even considering the options of how to allocate time and financial resources. To give back is a foundation value, a must, but rather than blindly shelling out perhaps we can give back in other ways using the resources we have more readily available to us. For us, this might be Rory riding the Tour deCure for cancer, or my raising awareness for other causes through this blog.
- The second responsibility we bear is to elect our political leaders carefully. Never during our lifetimes has this been more evident than now, as we watch Donald Trump bluster and divide his way towards the White House. The impact of his election to President of the World’s dominant Superpower would be potentially devastating. Come on America, get real, you’d be a comedy show if only you weren’t so powerful, and don’t even get me started on gun laws.
While Australia may not have Donald Trump, and Tony Abbott along with that egotistical twit Kevin Rudd, fell out of the tree onto their swords; we have an inherent responsibility to hold our leaders accountable for their actions. The refugee crisis is surely our most serious humanitarian issue right now.