Occasionally, I see something that just makes me think. This article is one of those things. In case you don’t feel like clicking through, here’s the executive summary: Karl Rabeder, who started poor and built up a fantastic fortune (3 million British pounds, about $4.6 million), has now decided to give all the money away: he gave (or is in the process of giving) all 3 million pounds he had accumulated to charities he had set up in Central and South America, although he’s not going to be drawing any sort of salary or compensation from those organizations. His stated goal is to “Have nothing left.”
It’s not the sort of thing you see every day; in the modern world, there’s a great deal of emphasis on accumulating a greater and greater amount of wealth, rather than giving it all away. Usually, if someone has such charitable leanings, they give only a portion of their wealth away, or wait until after they have died (and can’t use the money anymore, anyway). To see someone voluntarily turn themselves into a pauper comes across as just plain strange; this isn’t helped when he says things about hearing words telling him to ‘start his real life.’
Actually, giving away worldly possessions to find your true self isn’t a completely new concept, though; asceticism, the practice of depriving yourself physically in order to grow spiritually and in your religious beliefs, is a concept that has existed for much of human history. Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Jainism, have made the denial of worldly pleasures into major tenants of their faiths, and monks, nuns, and priests in most Christian sects practice varying degrees of abstinence (sexual and otherwise) to strengthen their faith.
But the ascetics differ from Mr. Rabeder in at least one important respect: they believe that money is a distraction from your spiritual goals because it can bring happiness. Removing money and other possessions allows them to focus on the attainment of spiritual goals without the worry about possessions so many people seem to have. In contrast, Mr. Rabeder has said, “Money is counterproductive – it prevents happiness to come.” He clearly seems to think that, rather than bringing (earthly) pleasure as the ascetics (and so many other people) seem to believe, money instead blocks it. Mr. Rabeder’s words caused me to start thinking: does money actually prevent people from achieving happiness and fulfillment in life?
Money is many things. I’ve given some of the reasons for people to want money before (and to want more of it than they currently have), and all are still valid. In fact, that’s the primary reason to have money; it gives you options. There’s many, many things you could do with $4.6 million dollars: fabulous spending sprees, great investment opportunities, and yes, giving it away to charity.
Money does have another side, of course; it also brings responsibilities and obligations. Particularly if you are trying to ensure that your net worth keeps rising, then the time and effort needed to manage, maintain, and grow your money can be quite extensive. It’s likely that sort of feeling that helped to motivate Mr. Rabeder’s choice in this matter.
That said, I can’t claim to understand Mr. Rabeder’s rationale completely; not being in his shoes, never having built a small fortune after I started from a poor background, I doubt I could ever fully understand him. But, it’s his money, and if he feels that this move will increase his happiness more than spending or investing it, well, I hope that he is right. Good luck in giving your fortune away to charity, Karl Rebeder, and here’s hoping that what you are seeking is easier to find once you no longer have so much money! (Here’s also hoping that I don’t read about you being arrested for tax evasion or something similar; it would be a shame if such an interesting, oddly uplifting story turned out to be a ruse to avoid paying your share of taxes.)