Grasshopper Soup: Thinking of the future can be painful
August 13, 2008
The ups and downs of the stock market, and the uncertainties of investing, are taking their toll on many hard-working Americans.
A dear friend of mine was telling me about the dismal condition of her 401k and retirement plans, both of which have been losing money. She has been working extremely hard as a nurse all her life. In spite of all her hard work and intelligent planning she felt pressured about the uncertainties of trying to find a way to reverse the situation.
“I have to start thinking of my future,” she said.
Identifying with her quandary, feeling her pain and realizing that economics is something that even the experts don’t fully understand, I still felt moved to add a little levity to the topic. I said, “I have to start thinking of my future too, but every time I try there always seems to be something happening right now that I need to think about instead, like chopping vegetables or driving a car.”
Certain activities are so dangerous the last thing you want is to be thinking about something else or you could lose a finger ” or your life. I want to be around for my future, with all my appendages. I’ve already lost part of my left baby finger and most of the feeling in my left ring finger because of a lack of timely attention to detail. One involved a car door when I was nine and the other resulted from the improper use of a brand new, and very sharp, pocket knife.
I probably wasn’t thinking of my future leading up to those incidents, certainly not when I was nine, but you get the point.
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You may think I am making light of a very important reality ” planning for the future. It is wise to plan and prepare, but I think that we have become so obsessed by it that providing for our physical and material future has become a major cultural and social problem.
Even planning for unexpected medical problems has given rise to an insurance racquet that is plagued with fraud and connected to medical costs that are seemingly insurmountable, even for those who are fully insured.
For decades now, welfare has become a bad word. Programs once designed to help people are now structured and designed primarily for the purpose of preventing fraud. Brochures provided by administrators of these programs come right out and say so. Helping the needy has become a burden, lost in the bureaucracy and all but forgotten. In the richest country in the world, many of these programs are already becoming obsolete.
Some reputable scientists believe that man’s concept of time began with the discovery that animals could be tracked by following their footprints. Simple survival provided our early ancestors with our first real glimpse into the future. Human awareness began to evolve beyond the immediate here-and-now. In terms of time, the change has been quite rapid, most likely faster than the evolution of our emotional and ethical awareness.
The industrial and technological ages have bestowed upon us the promise of untold wealth, ownership and possessions, to name only a few of the attractions of modern life.
Our potential for a long life is reason enough to make the acquisition of material things and sound financial planning a prerequisite for the modern day hunter gatherer. It is how we have come to define our personal worth and measure our success as human beings.
But, there are no guarantees. In our mad dash to save for a rainy day, many of us have lost our ability to live in the present. Our values and personal performance are dictated not by our hearts, but by our bank accounts, our debts, our fear of legal entanglements and our insecure concern over what other people will think of us if we live for today.
Rediscovering the fact that all we really have is this moment may be the most important ingredient for securing a stable future, because, ultimately, it is not what we have, but who we are, that really matters.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, ski instructor and commercial driver. He’s lived at Lake Tahoe for 25 years.
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