Observations of the Wealthy at the Hardware Store

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Over the cashier’s desk, standing alone in the aisle, is a man in a smart suit. A deluxe suit. Likely bought with one of those slick, exclusive credit cards that expects and requires regular one-time 1K charges. Between aisle two and three, beneath the florescent lights, he is gripping a wrench, looking at it as if waiting for the answer to come to him about why he is holding it, why he is meandering the town hardware store in the middle of the afternoon.

 

Potomac, Maryland is one of the wealthiest places in the world. When I describe my drive to work to friends back home, I tell them to think of the house of Downton, except twelve of them, each situated in a perfectly emerald field of their own, some with blue ribbon horses bounding through them, most with two staircases curving up high to enormous doors, several sparkling cars parked in the drive. Just a block away from where my Aunt and Uncle live, construction crews are assembling a series of condos going for one million each, each one with its’ own private elevator.

 

The Bethesda magazine that sits on the rack boasts the cover of a blond woman in a red pants suit with the title, We are Wealthy, Healthy and Wise, so why aren’t we Happy? 

 

The man in the aisle turns the wrench over, again and again, and I imagine his story. I’ve seen other men like him. They come in filled with some pseudo confidence, asking for specific, rare brands or types of tools, fertilizer, plumbing parts. It only takes a few minutes, a few follow-up questions until the jig is up. They stand there in naked humiliation and head hung defeated and say they found it online or a friend told them about it and no, they don’t know how to use it.

 

I imagine them as children not being boyish in the societal sense of the word, fascinated by things other than fixing the toilet or building a birdhouse. Since their toys were not hammers and screws and drywall, they maybe felt not enough, but unable to alter it. And this hole sinks in them. They’ve tried filling it with financial success and trophy wives who birth them three children that chase each other through their gigantic houses and horses circling them and all The Help dusting, precious privileges that a very, very small few have the luxury of finding, and yet, all it takes is the wrench. Just a small mass-produced tool mocking their inadequacy beneath the florescent shelf show lights.

 

And maybe that’s the problem with money. It asserts itself as the end all cure to whatever you feel is broken inside you. Whatever wounds so deep, it promises it can patch, but in the end, they return to that which is hurting them. We, I guess, all do. Like, instead of appreciating who he is, what he’s become, what ways he can change the world around him, he comes back to this piece of metal that reminds him of the one thing money cannot buy. He hasn’t changed the way he’s seen himself, he’s simply changed the way he’s played the game, first filling it with stuff and then, upon failure, going back to give it one last ditch effort. A self-fulfilling prophecy over and over.

 

And I see why they’re so unhappy.

~

This is one of MANY, unrefined, thoughts I’ve had while working at the hardware store. May post more later. Just kind of needed to get this one OUT THERE because it keeps ping ponging around my mind. What makes a person really, really happy do you think? Rick Warren says its’ not about us, and I tend to agree with that, but I’m wondering if that means it’s NOT OKAY to be happy. What do you think?

  • Ben – I’m surprised you didn’t recognize me – I was the guy pondering the wrench as if it could fix life itself.

    In my life, I’ve been broke and I’ve had some measure of success. You’re right that money has no power to make us happy; but it sure can grease the skids of life. In some ways, I wonder if money is like romance…it can be a blessing and enhance our lives, but when we get greedy we’re left wanting and unfulfilled.

    I know some people who’ve coveted the idea of marriage and family; but after the wedding they remain emotionally unfulfilled. They went into marriage looking to be made happy by another person. But I don’t think that’s how it works. Great relationships model Christ. They require mutual sacrifice, vulnerability, unconditional love, and mutual care-taking. A great marriage is not 50%/50% as some people say…that sets us up to be disappointed when our spouse doesn’t hold up their end of our bargain. A great marriage, I think, is 100%/100%. When we each bring our whole selves to it, we are mutually transformed and our lives are enriched.

    What’s true of marriage, is probably true of all of our relationships. Perhaps pouring ourselves out enables us to receive life’s blessings.

    So, in answer to your question…the older I get, the more I’m convinced that selflessness and serving others is the key to peace and wholeness. I profoundly miss the mark daily – in my marriage and in my life. Just like the wrench-guy, I feel completely inadequate. But I try. And I have hope.

    All my best to you.

    • I think you’re right Ford, selflessness. What I’ve been seeing at the hardware store, unfortunately, are the consistent themes of self-absorption and insecurity. I feel like money can grease the skids, but if it becomes TOO MUCH, being gluttonous with wealth, than it changes our outlook on life and others around us.

  • Aidan Bird

    Part of the problem, I think, isn’t just that our society tries to tell us that money and beauty will bring us happiness., part of it is that our society vilifies anyone who is unhappy or upset or suffering. Discussing suffering is taboo in our society, and so people hear these messages of being successful equating happiness, and they think it’s the only way. They start to think they’re the only ones suffering and not doing it right. That if they just try again and again maybe they can reach that happiness.

    Except it doesn’t work that way. Success, money, beauty — none of that can necessarily bring us happiness long term. Maybe short term, but not really long term. The holes and wounds we feel need to be tended, but society leaves no space for such a discussion. Often if such suffering is admitted, large swathes of society (and sometimes even close friends) will go into victim-blaming modes, and try to tear down the person in search of something to prove they just didn’t do enough; that if they did this action and said this then they could have defeated whatever caused their suffering or avoided it somehow. Most of them will do this, thinking they are helping the person, but in truth, all those words do is shaming the person who is suffering. That way of thinking diverts the line of questioning from what caused the suffering and plants it on the victim, shaming them into thinking they are the cause of their own suffering when the majority of the time outside forces and/or events (many outside their control) are a far larger factor as to why they’re suffering.

    Shame can suffocate, and our society excels at shaming others, especially those who suffer. Those who are poor, for example, are used by political pundits as targets as targets: who can best beat up the poor and prove they are entitled, stupid, leeches on society and need to be cut off from all aid? Except that shames the victim and clouds the truth: that the poor are hard-working, taking on more hours for less pay, and barely able to survive not because of their own fault, but because the minimum wage has not been risen in decades despite a huge rise in the cost of living in most places; but because food prices have soared, and the poor’s jobs have been either cut or downgraded, resulting in less income to pay for the expense of just surviving. People claim the poor are “entitled” but when they use that word, they are discussing food, shelter, water, and healthcare — all basic needs necessary for survival. Without them, you simply won’t survive in our modern economy.

    Because of this war on the poor, and this excessive shaming of anyone who suffers, most people are afraid to be associated with their own suffering. They must hide it and try to be seen as the successful and wealthy and the well-to-do. If anyone starts to point out their suffering or how they may be just as vulnerable to disaster or other sources of suffering as any other person, they will lash out in any way to try to prove they aren’t like those who the public eye has shamed for their suffering. These people will do anyting to prove they’re different, and often enough them lashing out is in the form of victim-blaming and other shame tactics. Tactics our society has taught us from a young age. Shaming tactics we use against ourselves in our battle to try to be successful, to find happiness in the false truths of success, wealth, and/or beauty.

    Our society doesn’t really lend itself toward helping people find happiness. Instead, it lends itself toward creating bitterness, division, and masking the truth and the reality of our situations.

    I suppose, now that I’ve dug into how unhappy people can be, what makes people happy? Well, have you seen Brene Brown’s TED Speeches and her research in that area? She discovered after a decade or so of research that the people who considered themselves the most happy were the ones that were the most vulnerable with their loved ones and friends. The ones who were the most compassionate and willing to listen to others. (Here is her awesome speeches in regards to this: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html and http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame.html )

    Even science is showing how happiness isn’t always found in financial success or in wealth. Happiness is best found where people are vulnerable, compassionate, and are willing to help one another in times of need. (As a side note: It also helps to have your basic needs met, because if you find it hard to access food, shelter, water, or healthcare, then you can experience a great amount of stress, which can not only make you unhappy but negatively affect your health – a cycle that feeds on itself, and why it’s so hard to escape poverty, especially during an economic depression like our current one for jobs are scarcer and pay less in wages during a depression.)

    Loving yourself and others, treating yourself with respect, and recognizing that it’s okay to have hard times. That discussing how we suffer is good and valid and just as important as trying to find ways of alleviating that suffering. You cannot heal a wound by ignoring it or running from it, and if you don’t stop to care for yourself and those around you who are suffering, how can you even hope to find happiness? It’s like, what you described: you end up standing in that hardware shop, holding that wrench and realizing, that your fight to be successful, to ignore those wounds and put them in your past, hasn’t worked. You haven’t found happiness, but instead, you’re back with yourself. Back at the beginning.

    I rambled a bit there, but this is where your post lead me, thought wise. Not sure if it answers your questions.

    • Yes, this right here Aibird:

      “Because of this war on the poor, and this excessive shaming of anyone who suffers, most people are afraid to be associated with their own suffering. They must hide it and try to be seen as the successful and wealthy and the well-to-do. If anyone starts to point out their suffering or how they may be just as vulnerable to disaster or other sources of suffering as any other person, they will lash out in any way to try to prove they aren’t like those who the public eye has shamed for their suffering. These people will do anyting to prove they’re different, and often enough them lashing out is in the form of victim-blaming and other shame tactics. Tactics our society has taught us from a young age. Shaming tactics we use against ourselves in our battle to try to be successful, to find happiness in the false truths of success, wealth, and/or beauty.”

      I’ve seen those ted talks and they are fantastic. This was such an insightful comment, thank you!

  • Sheila Warner

    A pretty decent presentation on why wealth in and of itself doesn’t satisfy.

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