Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

By , on February 19, 2012

Current Events, Money and Finance, Opinion

The Seattle Times published an essay by Kathleen Parker on February 15 entitled Whitney Houston: the Curse of Fame. The earliest comments to the article disagreed with Ms. Parker, assuming that Whitney died of a drug or alcohol overdose and emphasizing that Ms. Houston made her own bad choices. This is a case where you can agree with both viewpoints; there is no inconsistency. Whitney did make bad choices in how she lived, perhaps for almost the last two decades of her life. However, her situation, with lots of money, low education, the rigors of performing, and the company she kept certainly changed the risk of making those bad choices.  In all fairness, the comments as of today are more balanced than the early few. For example, one noted that there are actually few people with fame that succumb to self-indulgence and mind-altering substances.

Ms. Parker’s editorial is thought-provoking. Fame does not mandate stupid choices, but the loss of privacy is usually inherent, pernicious and irreversible. How many of us want our worst behavior, greatest weaknesses, physical infirmities, and social missteps known to all? This loss is costly, and not just economically. Have you ever gone shopping without wanting to meet anyone you knew or who knew of you?

It is very easy to think that more wealth would improve our lives and make things almost perfect for us; that the negatives accompanying wealth are minor annoyances. The truth is more harsh. Wealth brings about some serious problems. Everybody is friendly to you, even people that do not like you. It is difficult to distinguish friend from foe. Good choices, like learning a craft, volunteering, returning to college, starting a new profession late in life, exercising, limiting the intake of excellent liquor, avoiding expensive drugs whether legal or not, exercising, helping others, and even deciding to perform some menial labor on your own house (or at one of your estates) can become difficult choices and seem like silly things to do.

I have long noted the effects of wealth on people generally, and term the potential bad consequences from some choices open to them as “wealth risk.” The wealthy can buy cars with top speeds near 200 mph that are street legal. They can sky dive, engage in rock climbing, buy illegal drugs in copious quantities, and engage in many activities that are more risky than working forty hours each week.

It seems most of us should find happiness in our present circumstances and get to a point where we might change very little of our lives with an unexpected infusion of wealth.

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