Thursday, May 17, 2007

Philosofiend: Wealth (And Gifts)

Everyone knows a person it would be hard to shop for: a colleague with everything, in-laws with odd tastes. I've got a mother who doesn't make decisions on her own. How do you find a Mother's Day gift for someone without an opinion, especially if you detest insincere holidays such as Mother's Day? Luckily, my mother in-law is very "girly" and into various scented sundries as well as cosmetics, so I picked up a spa kit from my favorite, moderately Earth friendly boutique chain. Of course, most perfumes and colognes make me want to puke, so I chose something with very neutral scents and not puke-o-genic. Additionally we went to a spa for massages together once we arrived in her city, and made her a mixtape of music she likes and may like.

Now this course of action may seem very simple, but it is still philosophically driven. In giving a gift, we are not limiting ourselves to find something material that the person may like. For instance, there's a lot of souvenir kitsch that my mother enjoys and that I refuse to buy for her. Instead, we've expanded our idea of gifts to giving something that will enhance the person's enjoyment for the moment but also broadens the giftee's perspective or introduces them to a whole new skill set or set of experiences. We've given mixtapes, how-to gift books, de-virginized sushi eaters, and taught origami. It's a lot of fun for both parties in the exchange, and it suits our value system while also allowing us to spread something that we enjoy.

Of course sometimes it's still a case of "you can bring a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." I've bought a few different "how to use your Mac effectively" books for my dad, and also spent some time introducing my mom to computers, but there's still a beautiful G5 water-cooled Mac desktop idling in my parent's dining room using maybe 5% of its computing potential. But I digress.

I was thinking about the concept of wealth in our country. Currently, many (though not most) people enjoy a relatively decent quality of life. On home visits in the more disadvantaged neighborhoods in Albuquerque, people have heat, clean water, shelter, clothing, enough food calories, and preventative health care. In better neighborhoods people enjoy more consistent heat, greenspace and parks, safe neighborhoods, and better food. In my neighborhood, it's quiet, mostly safe, there's lots of young families nearby, and there's a good elementary school three blocks down the road.

So what does wealth mean in the context of Albuquerque, NM in 2007? For myself, what works is similar to an idea my father learned in wartime Vietnam: "they can't take what's in your head." In my context, where personal safety is less of an issue, I'd revise that to say "what's in your head makes you wealthy." In this context, the wealth I enjoy encompasses multiple skill sets, many wonderful experiences, and the ability to acquire more. Sunny and I have gone to Amsterdam, Saigon, New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and a really nice spa. I garden, and he codes. I troubleshoot medical instances, and he's made all of our house's doors fit in their jams. We're healthy and safe enough to continue all of that and more in a context of love, respect, and mutual values subject to discussion and tinkering. I think that even in less prosperous circumstances, this method of conceptualizing wealth would serve us well.

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