Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Price Is Right

I'm not a big fan of my parents. I'm extremely grateful that they raised me up the way I am and that they give me my allowance, but aside from that, I really want to get away from them. Let's face it. We children, at the very least, are a financial burden to our parents. And actually to other people as well. I don't want to be a burden to anyone. And I try to help out other people as well. So it really surprised me when my dad told one of his friends this statement: "Money can be replaced and expenses can be recuperated. People, however, can't." And I agree. I've been practicing that for most of my life. But it's different when you find out that you and your dad agree on something good.

For my part, friendship never came easy. I've had a long history of losing friends, whether it's because they leave the country, leave me because of a certain conflict (like during grade school, a lot of my popular friends became bullies), or simply because we both drift apart (and we're all partially responsible for this). I may have lived a comfortable life (I got regular allowance and got three square meals a day) but I also lived a lonely one. If it comes down to a choice between earning a million dollars or saving a friend's life, I won't hesitate choosing the latter. Of course having said that, I won't lend you money just because "you feel like it". But hey, if you haven't eaten yet for the day, I'll treat you out to lunch or dinner.

And in truth, it's also easier to come by with money more than with people. I mean the former isn't exactly the most critical of judges. Money doesn't have a brain or a heart; it's just there. It doesn't care whether you're a criminal or a saint, whether you're kind or mean, whether it was obtained through lawful or unlawful means. Obtaining money can be as simple as robbing a bank, or as complex as investing in the stock market. People, on the other hand, have higher standards. Even the poorest of the poor, for example, won't befriend just anyone. They have their own criteria. The criteria we choose doesn't even have to be a logical one. I mean there are people who choose friends based on their first impressions, or what they "feel" about the person. Others base their decision on physical appearance, social standing, or common interest. And while making new friends might sound easy to some, keeping them is the real challenge. I mean I can dump money in the bank and I'll know it'll be there when I get back to it one month later. When it comes to people, you can't leave them "unattended" for one month. They change, they grow. I know relationships that have been broken just because one of the parties didn't call up the other person every single day. Or boyfriends and girlfriends that break up just because the other person didn't reply immediately to their text message or phone call. People have emotions and they can react in the most unpredictable of ways. Some of our friendships are even accidents. You can make a formula for earning money, but you can't make a precise formula for making new friends: there will always be an unpredictable factor when you're dealing with people.

From a business standpoint, human beings are the product of experience. We don't just manufacture babies en-masse and then send them out as slaves or workers. For one thing, they have to be trained. For another, they have to actually agree to do the work. And third, you have to treat them right so that they actually like the job and keep on working for you. We're all human beings, after all, and we shouldn't treat others in a way we would want ourselves to be treated.

Why is kidnapping prevalent in the Philippines? Because it works! Nearly everyone values people more than they do money. Money doesn't love you back; it's just there to be used. It's people that are the ones that can be hurt and disappointed, pleasant and happy. Even the kidnappers themselves have loved ones that they value. I mean the perfect punishment for kidnappers wouldn't be to execute them but to execute their families (or even just kidnap them). Many kidnappers would then lose their motivation for kidnapping.

Unfortunately, our society also has what we call scapegoats. These are people whose main purpose is to be blamed for anything and everything. I mean when something goes wrong in government, there's always someone else they'll blame. Is it the right person? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But that's not the point. It shows how we're willing to sacrifice one person merely for the greed of others. Of course on the other end of the spectrum, we love to make other people our scapegoats. I mean whenever there's a problem with the economy or if there's a crisis, we immediately blame our president. Sure, our president might be doing something wrong, but not everything is her fault. Do we ask ourselves what we contributed to our country's downfall? And make no mistake about that, we're also partly to blame for the current state of the nation. And when we turn people into scapegoats, they stop becoming people: they're now machines, creatures that only exist for one purpose. It's not even a purpose they determine themselves; we merely assign it to them.

My friend Dean gave us this exercise once. Make a list of your "best friends" or people you can't live without. It can be as long or as short as you want. Now for every person you remove from that list, I'll give you $1,000,000.00.

Have you trimmed your list yet? Don't worry, we're not yet done. Now with your trimmed down list, eliminate as many people as you want. For each additional person you remove, I'll give you $10,000,000.00.

Evil? Perhaps. But hey, I wasn't the one telling you to choose which person (if any) to eliminate. The lure of money is actually quite tempting. And make no mistake, I'm not saying we don't need money. But do imagine a world where you have all the money in the world, but no one to spend it with. Money is a means, not an end. People, on the other hand, are ends in themselves.


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