By Marcus Lorenzo Penn
After our Summer/Fall hiatus, the PWF Breakfast Conversations started back with a fresh dose of insight and reflection. The morning began with overcast skies covering the sun as if a prelude to the process of uncovering and revealing to take place through our topic of conversation. Perspectives were shared from representatives of Outward Bound, Pachamama Alliance, No Bully in addition to myself and Heidi Majano as PWF co-facilitators. Our question was as follows:
“As our social and economic disparities widen locally, nationally and globally, what are the values attached to being ‘wealthy’ in the new millennium?”
With so much media attention on the material aspects of wealth, it was quite refreshing to have the first response to our question come from a broad perspective with a participant stating that “health is wealth”. This rang especially true with the evident disparities and inequities of poverty and health care access in so many areas of the world, when there are more than enough resources to share. As we continued to explore the values associated with ‘being wealthy’, the perspective of raising youth entered the conversation. One participant shared her challenge raising a 15 year old who is bombarded with societal associations of status with wealth, or ‘how to get that Tesla’ or ‘how to get rich,’ while trying to instill values of humility, humbling and sacrifice to arrive at wealth.
Another participant acknowledged that for many people wealth comes from a growing ‘desire for things’. However, he noted that this can become a problem when one’s mind obsesses for ‘fulfillment from external things.’ He personally envisioned wealth as an overflow of love and connection to each other. We all were cautioned to be mindful when we add expectation of our partner or mate to make us happy or be responsible for our fulfillment.
“Wealth equals abundance,” one participant shared. She saw it as having access to resources like health, money, cars, food, etc. Yet her ultimate desire is to have individuals embrace ‘ethically responsible wealth’ where one’s approach on how to share and give away involves a spiritual component from the perspective of being connected to those around you. She expressed how wonderful it would be to create budgets that would incorporate the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
One of our participants shared that she had a recent birthday celebration and saw it as a reminder of her personal (intangible) wealth. She was feeling reflective of what she had achieved, what she was grateful for and what love and appreciation she was surrounded by on her special day. Her face just lit up when she said, “I felt so wealthy!” So to stay in her feeling tone of personal wealth, she had just two wishes/prayers of keeping healthy and keeping close to her loved ones.
Anger came up during our Breakfast Conversation for one particular individual who is a San Francisco resident that recently became married. The anger, as he described it, stems from trying to reconcile the history of San Francisco largely being founded upon the ideals of counter-culture and progressivism (support for or advocacy of social reform) with the current environment of massive amounts of financial wealth coming from the tech industry.
He expressed feeling like ‘an outsider’ within the city trying to navigate environments where ‘just making money’ was the sole focus. His anger was further fueled by the fact that he went to school with many people in the local area who were making a lot of money in their respective fields of business, but he felt he could not trust them. He strongly believes a blind focus on money does a disservice to the world, yet he still tries to balance a desire for comfort and ease coming from a space of financial stability.
Another attendee recounted how she grew up middle class and attended a private university all while being very aware of the level of privilege she was living from. She observed how other international students (with no financial aid) were living in lofts off campus. In contrast with many of her international friends and colleagues going into business and finance, she felt a draw in a different direction and pull towards the nonprofit world. She also shared a similar sentiment on the state of San Francisco as our previous attendee, and was ‘pissed off’ upon her move to the city seeing much homelessness with the tech industry largely appearing to not care about the issue. This was compounded by the fact that many working for companies like Google are moving people out of San Francisco who can no longer afford to live there. All this, she describes, has lead her to work within nonprofits as if being a type of ‘Robin Hood’ for the community.
One person added that by inviting compassion in the hearts of people as they earn money and make financial choices may bring hope and a contemplative perspective. We spoke how being outside among the green foliage and the natural world helps us to remember that part of ourselves which often times gets lost in the day to day endeavors. Being in nature offers humility, the lesson here being that nature can teach us to give back, as having money and wealth comes with much responsibility. One participant proposed that if we can become more sensitive to other perspectives on wealth, then when/if a financial crisis or hardship occurs we can be open to new perspectives on wealth and fulfillment. Overlapping themes of sharing and living in modesty to social justice ideals to simply wanting to give back in a spirit of hospitality rang true to all of us at the table.
In addition, one attendee addressed our social conditioning to ‘want things.’ She shared how she regrounds herself away from the conditioning by simply meeting new people and speaking particularly to older people in the area to learn of life. This attendee’s response prompted me to introduce the concept of ‘social capital’ (the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively) into our conversation. Group consensus was that ‘social capital’ can be best used to just connect more with each other.
Towards the end of our conversation one of our international guest attendees added, “we must have conversations and provide spaces for the way forward.” Another attendee followed up by stating the best way to ‘uncondition and decolonize’ the mind of these societal wealth constructs is to first, “Talk about it!” How fitting it was that upon the conclusion of our breakfast conversation, the skies became clear and the clouds went away as if to affirm new light was shed and new insights were revealed on the topic of values attached to being ‘wealthy’ in the new millennium.
As our founder Sami Sunchild saw the disconnect within the U.S. after returning from her many travels around the world, she knew there was a need to hold sacred space around eye-opening topics touching us all. Our Breakfast and Lunch Conversation series continue to carry her legacy and vision forward.