Because we are human, there is in each of us the desire to acquire. Often we are after ‘things;’ bigger houses, cars, vacations, and lots of ‘stuff.’ Other times, we are after ‘power;’ some authority over others whether it be through our job or relationships.
What is this common personality trait–our desire to acquire–really all about? I think it’s because we are searching for meaning–in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. No one wants to be thought as passing insignificantly through this world, and so we strive to be relevant in some way.
But the desire to acquire can get out of hand. We must use self-discipline, or the very things that we work so hard to get will not give us relevance, but enslavement.
Aesop’s fable of The Boy and the Filberts: “A boy put his hand into a jar of filberts and grasped as many as his fist could possibly hold. But when he tried to pull it out again, he found he couldn’t do so, for the neck of the jar was too small to allow of the passage of so large a handful. Unwilling to lose his nuts but unable to withdraw his hand, he burst into tears. A bystander, who saw where the trouble lay, said to him, “Come, my boy, don’t be so greedy. Be content with half the amount, and you’ll be able to get your hand out without difficulty.”
I wonder if the boy made the decision to curtail his desire to acquire?
Some people just can’t let go. Their possessions and power command them. And always, they want more. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our own misguided government.
“How can men control the growing monstrousness of power when they cannot even control their own appetites? How can they shape political or cultural decisions affecting countless others, when they are continually failing themselves?”
That question was asked by Romano Guardini, a Catholic priest, author, academic, and one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th century. Guardini advocated that command over the world presupposed a command of self. In other words—clean up your own backyard first, if you’re going to lead or influence others.
Guardini’s question is even more relevant today. When we look around—-maybe even under our own noses—we see people grasping for more.
What we need today, in those who run our government, is self-discipline. We need men and women who acquire a certain distance from things, who refuse to capitulate to the promise of more and more personal power at the expense of those they pretend to serve.
And what we need from ourselves is the same: a curtailment of our desire to acquire. Just as we ask of our leaders, we must recognize the excesses within ourselves and set about to right them.
How about emptying ourselves of all that selfishness and pride we’ve acquired? Only then can we expect it of others, even our leaders.