The Other 1%

November 29, 2011 § 7 Comments

Thanksgiving came and went the way I hope all of my family’s Thanksgivings forevermore will come and go. There were nearly 30 of us gathered around a long row of cobbled-together tables, friends and family ranging in age from 2 to 70. There was snow on the ground, and sledding, good conversation and laughter and, needless to say, food aplenty. We disbanded early; of the families present, four had milking animals to attend to, and of course milking animals don’t really care that you’ve eaten a few too many pieces of pie and might prefer to spend chore time splayed across the couch.

Like most of us, I take far too much of my life for granted. This is the almost-inevitable result of living amidst constant abundance and largely in accordance with my own peculiar desires. There isn’t much sacrifice in my life, or if there is, it looks and feels too much like blessing to be taken as such. Oh sure, I have my moments, little petulant temper tantrums that tend to crop up when I am pulled in too many directions and it feels as if the needs of others are usurping my own. But like most of the stories we tell ourselves, this one is primarily of my own internalized design, and after Penny talks me down, I am always struck by how much of how we relate and react to the world is of our choosing.

From which I can only extrapolate: It is my choice to take so much for granted. Therefore, it can also be my choice to be more consciously grateful. Grateful for what? My family, naturally. Our animals. The friends that gathered in our home on Thanksgiving Day and those that didn’t. That fact that in about five minutes, I’m going to shut this computer down, get up from my desk, and head outside to labor alongside my wife, doing work that feels so damn good and important I don’t care a whit that nobody’s paying me to do it. The fact that I have the freedom to do this. And on and on and on.

I’ve been thinking about all of this in relation to the Occupy Wall Street protests. The protests resonate with me, but only to an extent. Because while I understand intellectually the damage done by the lockjawed grip of corporate America on the politics and policy of our nation, there’s a part of me that feels sorry for the poor demented bastards at the helm of these institutions. Ok, so maybe they’ve taken more than their share of our nation’s assets. Maybe they’re the driving force behind the unequal distribution of wealth in this country. And for this, they should be held accountable.

But of course true wealth is not confined to the narrow metric of money and stuff. And to the extent that wealth can be described as living life on one’s own terms, amidst a community that understands, supports and honors this definition, I am almost embarrassed by my affluence. Because the more I think about it, the more it feels as if I am part of the 1%. It’s the 1% that has learned (or is learning) that money is at best a partial accounting of prosperity. It’s the 1% that has learned (or is learning) that money and time are not readily conflated. It’s the 1% that spent Black Friday making or doing or simply being, rather than buying. It’s the 1% that is probably much bigger than 1%, but having no particular need for acknowledgement, is content to go quietly about its business.

It’s the 1% that can say, in all honestly, let them have it. Because what I’ve got is better. 

§ 7 Responses to The Other 1%

  • Jennifer Fisk says:

    I absolutely agree that what you have going is better than the what anyone connected to corporate America has. My farmette is better than what most of them have. The only rub is when you are at retirement age and you realize you will have to work at least 4 more years so you’ll have money to live on because of the greed it is difficult. The bonuses paid to so many of the corporate executives is obscene and the cost of living is what it is in great part because of them. Yes they have glitz and I have a nice homesteading kind of life but it still costs a lot of money to live.

  • Terry Solomon says:

    Lesson learned, again.

  • sylvia says:

    I have found it really hard to identify with the Occupiers. My oh so liberal husband tells me that it is because I come from money and that is true. My dad is really wealthy. But he showed up in Atlanta in 1958 with $19 in his pocket and worked his butt off to accumulate his wealth. My mom is one of 15 children of sharecroppers. Neither one of them coddled any of the 4 of us and they insisted that we work from before I can even remember. Chores, afterschool jobs, summer work, we were required to do it. So, I don’t think it is that I come from wealth
    Both my husband and I work for a small family owned money order co. We work really hard and get paid nicely. But we have taken pay cuts, benefit cuts and really stepped up to help out when the economy tanked so that no one was laid off or let go. Everyone in our company has a stake in making it work. And it may not. But each of us is doing our part. Working hard.
    I grow most of our vegetables, a lot of our fruit, most of our chicken, all of our eggs, and have worked out a deal for a pig and cow, and cheese. It is hard work to produce food. But I do it gladly for the great stuff I produce on 3/4 of an acre in suburban Atlanta. I would do it even if times weren’t tough. I am glad I know how to feed my family and look forward to next spring.
    I get that there are a lot of people out of work, losing their homes and going hungry. We donate a lot of food to the local food bank, help out with the homeless in our community and support social justice initiatives to prevent this. I understand that we could easily be one of those going without. I am not without empathy for those who are not as blessed as we are.
    I just don’t understand why the Occupiers are in a park, blaming corporations. It is really hard for me to understand why anyone would choose to sleep in a tent, contributing nothing to their families, parroting slogans, and communally sharing food donated by unions. I
    I guess I will just have to mull this over as I jump up to go clean out the chicken shed before I go to my ‘real job’.

  • Beautiful flow to your post. Contentment in your community, contentment in your small portion of the world, contentment with your place in life. I have come to realize that contentment comes from the inside, not from what is imposed upon us. That said, I am thankful to YHVH-God for the evidence of his hand in my life.

    Maybe because of all the decorations that include “Pilgrims” I wonder to myself, how did they live without Wall Street? Can it happen again? I will not stop opposing the “law” that allows this non-sense BUT I want to figure it out. Can I live by the motto, ABANDON Wall Street and still know joy? So far the answer is yes. Time will tell.

    Deborah……choosing to be content

  • Jean says:

    Very profound Ben. Thank you

  • […] author Ben Hewitt writes of contentment and Wall Street in “The Other 1%” […]

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