Please don’t wish me luck & prosperity for Chinese New Year! Because The Best Things in Life are FREE
Every Lunar New Year, as I accompanied my parents to visit relatives, they would say while exchanging oranges, “This year may you get lucky and earn big money”.
It’s an auto greeting that I never gave much thought to as my family and schoolmates were brought up to believe that the pursuit of money is crass and vulgar, and luck was associated with gangsters & gamblers!
Until suddenly in the 1980s & 1990s “Money makes the world go round…money, money, money…” seemed to be the song on everyone’s lips and mind (hit from movie Cabaret) then even worse.
“GREED is GOOD” proclaimed Wall Street corporate raider Gekko (played by Michael Douglas in the 1987 hit movie). Everyone jumped on the get-rich-quick-bandwagon…Multi-level marketing scams proliferated.
And horrors – I too joined in when I was executive editor of women & lifestyle magazines and proudly fattened the flagship magazine HER World into a ‘Cash Cow’ of over 400 pages, for the fat cat shareholders.
The money rolled in from advertisers of branded watches, jewelry, cosmetics, designer clothes, sports gear, furniture, cookwear …all designed to lure women and men to buy, buy, buy, and credit cards were dished out like promo leaflets!
Although I found distasteful, advertisements with the selling words, exclusive, premier, prime, upmarket, and luxurious, I too had a hand in the cookie jar.
I even bought and read Donald Trumps ‘Art of the Deal’ and thought he was cute. What bad taste I had! Even my farmer-father, though he happily drove a 700cc Suzuki, his company, Lee Plantations, car, got swept along and became an admirer of South Korean entrepreneur Kim Woo Choong, creator of the Daewoo car empire.
My Dad bought many copies of Kim’s book, Every Street Is Paved with Gold (1992) to give to nephews, nieces and colleagues.
What a contrast to the photocopied handouts from Readers’ Digest my father used to give out on George Washington Carver, the black slave who invented over 100 uses for the peanut and sweet potato. This genius (1864 to 1943) inventor, brilliant botanist, artist, musician and speaker was also renowned for his disregard for wealth, and for his deep humility and kindness.
Carver drew the same modest salary every year. He refused pay increases and used his savings to help poor students and eventually set up a museum. He would not take more money because he credited his inventions to God’s gifts through him to humanity.
In the early days, Carver would scour waste dumps for items that he and poor black students could put together for his mobile laboratory. Today, because of still-edible foods that wasteful societies toss out, a dumpster diving movement has gained momentum. Yes, there is a ‘Dumpster Diving’ group in Singapore!
But nobody in a high achieving capitalist society wants to emulate simple George Washington Carver, all want to be Madonna’s Material Girl, a Kim Daewoo, even a flashy Donald Trump.
Money, money, the mantra firmly installed, it wasn’t at all surprising that even in formerly staid Singapore, one senior Minister proclaimed, “GREED is GOOD because it makes us work harder, it makes us competitive.” When our mantra should be ‘co-operative’.
So what happens to societies where everyone wants to get a slice of the money pie? Morals, ethics, scruples, compassion, fairness, equality, like uneaten food, gets tossed into the trash bin.
War and making weapons is the world’s most profitably industry, and while little red dot Singapore may not be among the top 10 players, we have profited too. Surely we have smothered our conscience as every National Day parade and air shows, we proudly trot out our deadly weapons.
What about making money from Casinos? Well, despite warnings, even pleadings, by all four major religious groups in Singapore not to give the green light to casinos, Singapore Inc.went ahead. Predictably, social problems follow casinos, families get broken up and gambling addiction can become a big problem.
Then, in the early 1990s, as a burnt-out super-achiever mum, I went on a quest to find ‘Peace of Mind’. I already had the five C’s and life was still not fulfilling. Friends told me that I must not have a puritanical attitude about money. Some pointed to a quasi-spiritual workshop they had attended and raved about, ‘Money and YOU.’
“Money is just Energy –it’s neutral” they asserted. Sorry, but I couldn’t buy that as I saw good people, honest people, get burned, lose their savings, even borrowings, on buying gold, investing in club memberships and properties etc.
Even someone as smart as Kim Woo Choong took one big risk too many. “Mr Kim got into the habit of heavy borrowing on the assumption that his companies would expand quickly, borrow more and expand again. He didn’t appear to grasp the magnitude of the crisis even when the Korean government was forced in late 1997 to ask the International Monetary Fund to bail the group out. Their debt was US$60 billion…” reported the NY Times.
Kim Daewoo’s buying spree was up when his executives and accountants were charged, convicted and jailed. Mr Kim fled….but in 2007 he was pardoned and apparently this is the way the South Koreans do business!
But before Mr Kim’s debts got to the US$60 billion mark, he ventured into Hanoi which, in the 1980s, was still an agricultural society. He got into
a partnership with the Mayor of Hanoi and they visualised manicured golf courses, glitzy shopping complexes and restaurants.
And I still remember an unforgettable cover story on why this joint South Korean Kim and Vietnamese Mayor venture got aborted. The peasants of North Vietnam refused to surrender their precious land. A gnarled peasant woman was featured gesturing a sweet potato she had dug up from the rich soil “ You want us to give this up? You say we can become caddies and waiters?” “You don’t understand do you what the land, the soil, means to us. It is our very life. Get out!” I silently cheered as I knew that Uncle Ho Chi Minh – peasant-intellectual* would have turned in his tomb if the venture had gone through. Mr Kim and his cronies backed down.
In Russia right now Putin is granting each Russian a hectare of land free, to create their ‘kin’s domain’. Already over 300 eco-communities have sprung up in Russia – and these are headed by professionals and executives going back to living without money. They know that it is only going back to the land, to nature, that will bring lasting happiness and good health.
Why I am so adamant about not wishing for prosperity? Well, it is not only because I see how money has corrupted societies, but it is the pursuit of money for a materialistic lifestyle that has resulted a global climate crisis creating waves of desperate climate refugees.
It is the drive for money that leads corporate America into profitable wars (the big money is in re-building) and people all over the world becoming robotic addicts, shopaholics, alcoholics, foodaholics, and now cyberholics .
The wealth is also in the hands of very few, maybe the top 10 -20%, another 40% + comprise the middle-class struggling with mounting debts, fighting off loan sharks and stressed-out at work, or worse have been laid off. And then you have the working class and the foreign workers, sleep-deprived and working like rats on a treadmill.
It is not a more equitable distribution of the money-pie that is the solution. You have the wealthy dying of cancer/stroke/heart disease as much as the poor taxi driver. It is because we have been brain-washed; dumbed-down to believe that money is the key to happiness. Governments have used money to entice, to reward, to punish, and the result of all this?
The Dalai Lama said: “ People are funny. They chase after wealth, only to lose their health. Then they lose their wealth, chasing after health.” He should add: And they lose their lives painfully and prematurely – and they can’t take their wealth to the other realm.
Media mogul Kerry Packard, Australia’s richest man in the 1970s-1980s died of kidney failure at 68 – his pilot donated a kidney but he managed to live only a few years after his kidneys failed. Asia’s richest woman Nina Wang was stricken with cancer, she too succumbed at age 71.
We should heed the wise Iraquoi American Indians who prophesied over 400years ago:
“Only when man has cut down the last tree, only when man has poisoned the last river, only when man has caught the last fish, only then will man realize he cannot eat money.”
So let’s stop this manic pursuit of more and more wealth as, in the destruction of nature to build mega cities, mega industrial-military empires and monoculture plantations, humans have turned meadows into deserts, and poisoned air, soil, water and oceans – our life support systems.
Because bio-scientists tell us that at the cellular level humans are little different from a bee or a banana…and we have the attention span of a flea! So if we keep killing our eco-systems, we are committing genocide.
“ Our challenge is against stupidity” says feisty physicist & environmentalist Dr Vananda Shiva …the stupidity of thinking we can steal, plunder from nature and profit without end.
Nature gives her bounty, her all – for free – yet man has made everything extracted or stolen from nature costly – the GMOs, royalties, patents, fossil fuels, global transportation, refrigeration, warehousing, packaging etc with ‘slave’ labour too. And the end result is fake food which gives us cancer, obesity, diabetes, stroke and heart attacks …so let’s opt out of this insane, soul-destroying system.
Join me in living in Sedili Besar village by the sea in Johor as you sing or hum:
“The Moon belongs to everyone…the Best Things in Life are Free…
The Stars they shine for everyone, they gleam there for you and me..
* Fidel Castro said he had one regret in his life – he never got around to meet fellow humanitarian-revolutionary Ho Chi Minh – before ‘Uncle Ho’ passed away – although Castro sent weapons and other supplies to fight the Americans aiding the Vietminh.