This post is an elaboration of #3 from a list of things I learned early in life.
My small Tokyo apartment is quite boring compared to the Mexican house I lived in 5 months. No scorpions, tarantulas, snakes or rats ever visit me here. I don’t get to adjust the roof tiles every rainstorm to minimize the dripping. I don’t get to daily gather firewood just to cook the beans and potatoes. Here I actually have an indoor toilet, and don’t get to shoo off the pigs who are poking their noses in my business. My floor here is linoleum rather than packed clay and stone.
Isidro, my closest neighbor in those mountains of central Mexico had a single bare light bulb hanging from his ceiling to lighten up the evenings, if only in a comedic sense as the closest electrical source was nearly 6 hours by mule from our small village. He was able to make $2 per day if he hired himself out to other farmers, just barely enough to support his wife and 2 kids. But they seemed quite happy. Every evening the men in the village would come over to chat and laugh with and at the strange “gringo” who dared to live in their impoverished village.
Benito, another resident of this village of Picachos, would ride his mule past early every morning on his way to gather firewood. He handled both his mule and the firewood like a grown man in spite of his 5 years of age. There were 7 other children in his family, and all of them had 2 changes of clothes that their mother had sewn for them. The father was a farmer who planted corn on the surrounding hillsides, nearly all of which were steeper than 45 degrees.
It was amazing to see just how happy these families were in spite of their poverty. There’s nothing like a few months in an impoverished country to adjust your values.
However, my own experience in the US was far from extravagant. I grew up in a family of 7 kids. I believe it was 1970 when my father first made over $10,000 a year as a carpenter/teacher. I didn’t realize how poor we were relative to other Americans. When I was 7, I remember my father giving us kids a weekly allowance of age times 1 penny. Because my parents could not afford to buy us kids much beyond the essentials, I began delivering newspapers when I was 12, and proudly bought my first pair of designer bell-bottoms for $5 a year later. I began to help support my family by working on a dairy farm when I was 14, then at a bakery when I turned 16. But I never felt poor. My brothers and I all assisted my father in building the house my mother still lives in. I don’t remember anyone in my family complaining about our relative poverty.
I now live in Tokyo among some very affluent friends. Most of my friends understand the value of money and its mythical correlation to happiness. But once in a while I meet someone who has an over-developed sense of entitlement or an obsession with accumulating wealth at the expense of living. When I compare them to my memory of the happy Mexican families splashing and playing in the mountain streams, it’s not the Mexicans I feel sorry for.
I sense I may be sounding self-righteous about my take on money, so just let me leave you with this. Ignore money. If you enjoy the game of making money, great. But don’t let money distract you from experiencing the multitude of more satisfying accomplishments in life.