A Sideways Glance with Richard Bogartz: Some things really do matter

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Last month I discussed recognizing things that just don’t matter and treating them accordingly. When we don’t do this, we get tied up in power and control games, lost in notions of false fairness and nonsensical equity, struggling to have our way, overwhelmed by notions of I, me, and mine.

I did not argue that nothing matters. I don’t believe that or live that way. But articulating what matters is challenging. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s partly because the concepts that come to mind are abstractions and I’m suspicious of abstractions. Also, I feel I’m in over my head in that I’ve thought deeply about only a few of these. Still, this being my 152nd column, regular readers will know I have never let my ignorance stand in the way of my sideways glancing.

My first notions of things that matter were transcendence, self-knowledge, love and intimacy, honesty, compassion, joy, courage, friendship, playing by the rules, humor, learning, gentleness, health, air, water, food, and shelter.

I mentioned this column topic to a friend. They suggested that another entry into what matters would be what people don’t talk about. They suggested courage, money, and sex, thankfully diverting me from the tough nuts above.

Courage not being talked about surprised me, but I guess it’s true. I don’t recall conversations about courage. I won’t add to the void.

Certainly, money matters. The less you have, the more it matters. Perhaps if you are literally penniless, you are so concerned with food and water that dumpster diving takes priority even over trying to get money. I suspect the most concern with money is with those who are struggling to make do with not quite enough of it.

Now that the national moratorium on tenant evictions has been lifted, we’ll be hearing more about those to whom money deficits crushingly matter. Perhaps a moratorium on landlords having to pay their mortgages might have been a more humane approach than kicking families out on the street.

The pedestrian rich and the stupid rich may adore their portfolio balance, but I doubt any superrich people think much about money except as a tool, even though their projects may be bringing it in by the jillions. It’s others that try to compute how much the rich are worth. My bet is they’re too busy to care.

I have little that’s reliable to say about money. Money makes people crazy. Never lend money to a friend or someone you love. If you can afford to, give it to them outright. Perhaps tell them they can return it if it’s ever easy for them. If you can’t give it, just refuse. Refer them to a credit union. Consider telling them they’re too important to you for you to lend them money because money makes people crazy.

Above some minimal level for real necessities, whether you have “enough” money will have much more to do with who you are than with what you have.

Above some necessary minimal level, if you want to feel rich, spend less than you earn. If you want to feel poor, spend more than you earn. Both spending styles work at any super-minimal income level.

At the university I learned that the smaller the amount of money being fought over, the more bitter the fight. Money makes academics extraordinarily crazy.

For some, not getting their “fair” share of money impugns their intellect, their ability to manage their life, their reputation as a jungle survivor, and questions whether they can carry a tune. For others, money means so much more than a numerical value of exchange possibilities. How competent a human being they are. How much God loves them, despite Jesus having said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” What a wonderful life partner they would be. How fine a mind they must have.

The above musings may suggest why money is not talked about.

And then there is sex. This being a family newspaper, I phonily hesitate to risk damaging young minds by discussing matters of sex that young people, despite laughable adult efforts at protective censorship, are thoroughly revealing to one another. I simply note that sex, like money, can take on countless meanings and imply all sorts of worthiness or unworthiness. Perhaps sex is not talked about so that only rich people will know these secret implications.

Richard S. Bogartz is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.