If society is to prosper long-term, many of us (myself included) will need to redefine our definition of wealth. I say this not as some left-leaning, anti-capitalist, I say it as a professional futurist who is deeply concerned about the current trajectory of contemporary society.
In my pursuit of attempting to understand the future, I spend a fair amount of time studying history as well as how different cultures think about the future. To this end, I have always found it intriguing that many indigenous societies have no word for the term “wealth.”
It might be easy to dismiss this anomaly as a quirk of indigenous thinking or, worse yet, a cause of some cultures inability to progress in a modern, material sense.
Such perspectives are dangerously misguided because the one thing indigenous cultures had achieved–prior to being confronted with the West’s materialistic mindset–was long-term success. Many successfully prospered for hundreds of generations. (To put this in perspective, America, by contrast, is not even 20 generations into the “great American Experiment” and its lack of stewardship of the air, land, water, and other species has contributed to a wide variety of ecological crises).
Now, I will readily acknowledge that capitalism has achieved a number of remarkable successes and, in many ways, has made the world a demonstrably better place. Unfortunately, its emphasis on generating short-term “wealth”–in the form of excessive compensation, more cars, larger houses, and super-sized yachts, etc– is currently greater than its ability to produce long-term, regenerative success.
I don’t have any grand solutions for redefining wealth (although in my new book, The Re Generation: Sowing Seeds for a Future of Reimagination, Reconnection, and Regeneration, I do profile some individuals who are broadening their understanding and definition of wealth), I would merely like to propose that we each each take time to reflect deeply on what true “wealth” may look like for each of us.
If it is more material possessions, I will not judge you (because I am guilty of this myself) but I am convinced our current way of defining wealth will not be looked upon favorably by future descendants.
As you consider your future definition of wealth, I offer one piece of advice as well as a few questions for you to consider. The advice is this: Do not seek to define the term “wealth” with your mind, rather search your heart.
Once in the proper “heart-set” here are some questions to consider:
–Does your current definition of wealth include space for your values? Specifically, does your definition of wealth also make you more “rich” physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually?
–Under what timeframe do you define wealth? Does your defintion take into consideration future generations’ ability to have the same or greater access to the things you currently have?
–How do you define “having enough”? Does your definition of “enough” include having enough to share with others?
–Does your definition of wealth include being a good relative and a good ancestor?
–And finally, does your definition of wealth help your relatives, your community, and the planet flourish? Does it leave everyone better off? If not, why not?
Jack Uldrich is a best-selling author, global futurist, and keynote speaker. His latest book is “The Re Generation: Sowing Seeds for a Future of Reimagination, Reconnection, and Generation.” Fast Company 2022