Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Thirty Billion Dollars, Forty Top Ten Records, And An Academy Award

Muir Beach, California, USA

February 7, 2012

"When you find yourself in the thick of it, help yourself to a bit of what is all around you, silly girl!" ... The Beatles, Martha My Dear 


In overhearing the talk in today's financial markets, especially in the new tech  financial markets and the eye-popping figures touted for company valuations during speculation of their IPOs, I have a tendency to get distracted from context  in spite of who I am. When I'm distracted from context, my relationship with the wealth of newly minted billionaires is one of separation:  I'm separated from it, and I'm separated from them, the newly minted billionaires. Actually billionaires are passé  these days. A billion dollars  is passé these days. A mere pittance  really. Paltry. Chicken feed. Try twenty  billion ... and more  ...

I have no issue with others' croesian  wealth. Really I don't. Yes I can think of a few things I would do with an extra billion or two in loose change in the wallet in my back pocket. But the truth of the matter is in order to have the wealth (or, to put this in its true perspective, in order to have their  wealth), I'd have to do exactly what they do. It's more than that actually. It's in order to have the / their wealth, I'd have to be them. And that's the truth which sobers me up instantly about other people's wealth. It isn't a statement about what I think of tech billionaires personally. I admire what they do. I admire the way they do what they do. But I don't want to do what they do, and I don't want to be them. When I get that, I don't envy their wealth, I'm not separated from it, and I'm not separated from them. It's not significant. It's just a so what?!

There's something else I've come to see lately: whatever experience I have of others' enormous wealth is my experience. More pointedly, whatever experience I have of what enormous wealth is, is my experience. The moment I betray my experience by making it over there  and with them  rather than over here and with me, is when I forfeit all  real wealth (the actual bank account where the dollars reside is less definitive than it at first may seem).

Similarly, the way successful popular music artists attract my ear is really all in the experience I create. The experience I create is a lot less dependent on what they  do than it at first may seem. It's I who creates the experience of their music. In this way, successful popular music artists at best assist  me creating my own music experience, rather than doing something from which I'm separated and in which I don't participate.

By the way, one of the things about being a popular music artist is it comes at an enormous cost: the loss of privacy. I had an opportunity to work with the Jackson family at their sprawling compound on Hayvenhurst Avenue in Encino, California. Great individuals. A truly great family. One evening in the kitchen after work, Michael's father Joseph, his mother Katherine, brother Jermaine and sister Janet (sans  makeup and muscularly beautiful) and I were sitting around, eating cold cuts, talking. I was sharing that after working with them I would be going to Paris to work, followed by a vacation. A wistful Jermaine said "Do you know how much I wish I could go somewhere and just relax and be unrecognized?".

"Wow! That's something" I thought to myself. "You have unimaginable wealth and fame, and everyone loves you. But you can't walk down the street to the grocery store and show your face in public for fear of being mobbed ...".

Sir Paul McCartney, a billion and a half dollars of net worth fortune later, has famously and endearingly observed one thing he's ongoingly afraid of is waking up one day finding himself poor. It doesn't matter that it's a billion and half dollars later. It doesn't matter that it's fifty years later. It doesn't matter that it's thirty top ten records later. It makes no difference that his is arguably the most widely recognized and loved face and voice on the planet. The same sense of being poor in Liverpool is still there. The quality of life afforded by wealth  is hopelessly and constantly undermined by termites from the past boring the foundations of Life now and for the foreseeable future.

There is no  thirty billion dollars outside of  my experience of thirty billion dollars. There are no  forty top ten records outside of  my experience of forty top ten records. There are no  academy awards outside of  my experience of the academy awards. And I am the source of my experience.

My position  with regard to others' mega-wealth and success comes down to a choice between envy  and celebration. I can envy others' mega-wealth, or I can celebrate it as my own experience. I can envy other's success, or I can celebrate it as my own experience. Envy separates. Celebration unites. Envy is the coin of the realm in a you or  me world. Celebration is the coin of the realm in a you and  me world.



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