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85 Is it material?
When I was in grade
school and had a cast on my arm, boys in the class alarmed me
describing the machine that cuts off the cast. They said it cuts
through the plaster but does not cut through material. Always the
scholar, I reminded them that plaster is a material. By the word
material they meant cloth.
Today we continue playing
games with the word material. To a lawyer, the word means
“pertinent to the current case.” A philosopher differentiates
between material and spiritual well-being. I combine the meanings
to assert that materialism is not material to
We can be happy if we’re
content with what we have. We can achieve satisfaction by
performing up to expectations. If we are not content, we
can increase performance or reduce expectations.
There are two influences
for making changes. We might want improvement because we
are dissatisfied with a current condition. On the
other hand, even being satisfied with what we have, we can
imagine better. The first attitude is
pessimism. The second is motivation.
depends on two factors: accomplishing an objective and perceiving
fulfillment of a goal. Satisfaction is reaching an
Next, we consider what
expectation to have. For example, do I want a piano or the
ability to play the piano? Do I want a personal skill or talent
for my own use? Do I want personal satisfaction from
satisfying others? Do I want satisfaction from beating
others? Is there a selfish component to what I want?
Articles 21, 22, 36, and
39 provided in depth
coverage of questions surrounding our motives, whether they be
internal or external, selfish or altruistic. Now applying our
magic word of the day, we say that motivation is highly
material to achieving satisfaction. It matters what
In addition to the
internal factors such as the goals we set for ourselves, we are
also faced with external conditions which may or may not be of
our own making. We might have deliberately created our
circumstances, or we might simply find ourselves in
As suggested above, we
can choose between depressing pessimism and motivating optimism.
Article 84 prepared us to recognize that “it
depends on what you make of it.” Again, we safely assert that our
outlook matters, and attitude is material to outcome.
After showing what is
material to our happiness, we turn to the other meaning: physical
material or materialism. In contrast, the above paragraphs
discuss mental states: appreciation, expectation, intention,
The material world does
matter. Objects can represent meaning other than materialism. The
fire at Notre Dame caused genuine loss to all of humanity. My
grieving is not materialism because I did not lose personal
property, I had not paid for the cathedral, and I do not have to
pay for its rebuilding. The loss is great because the physical
object’s significance is its spiritual meaning. Here it is the
human values that are material to happiness.
What do you remember
about the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City?
Some companies lost offices and related assets, but we don’t
sense how that affected their prices. We sense the terrible loss
of life. People were the great value lost.
As I began tuning pianos
over fifty years ago, Bernita Vista, one of the old timers,
taught an exemplary business standard: “I don’t service pianos; I
service people.” Now at the other end of my career I find that I
do not remember individual pianos so much as I remember
individual piano owners. The results of my manual labor disappear
quickly as pianos go out of tune, but the joy that I share with
the musicians is a permanent blessing.
What this means
Think of the work you
have done in your life. Have you been a team player? Have you had
customer contact? Have you helped people diagnose and meet
their needs? What have you exchanged with customers and
colleagues other than money?
On paper, I have finally
worked my way up to zero net worth. My real prosperity is that my
customers are my friends and I have a wealth of fond
I enjoy both the art and
the technology that surround me. I am physically better off than
most of the world’s population in all of history. Nevertheless,
as my life winds down and I undertake less and less, my people
memories are the most important parts of my life. I am impressed
by rising over the clouds in an airplane. I have always been
blessed with reliable nutrition. However, in the face of
this luxury, I count my most impressive blessings as living in
freedom and associating with good people.
You may find my writing
naïve and unrealistically cheerful. It is sincere, rooted in
supportive personal relationships. From having parents who
lived within their means to living in a democracy with freedom of
speech and religion, I have had the advantages that are most
conducive to a happy life. This is a matter of perspective.
Relative to my neighborhood I am seriously frugal, but I choose
to observe that I am one of the wealthy few compared to the
masses of humanity throughout history. I am thankful to be
an educated scholar instead of a slave laborer building pyramids.
I don’t even see the materialism that I lack because I am
so keenly aware of the blessings that matter more.
Permit my contentment to
be my proof: my happiness establishes that materialism is
immaterial. Human kindness is preeminent. The foundation of our
lives lies in how we share our circumstances and efforts. That is
material to happiness.
Being For Others Blog copyright © 2020 Kent Busse
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