To Thrive In An Unfair World, Don’t Be A Miser: The Treasure and The Two Men

W. Aractingi

Conversation got a little heavy at the breakfast table the other day. I was telling my partner about a book I was reading by Phillippe Lançon, one of the survivors of the terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices on January 7, 2015. Next thing we knew we were revisiting the November 13, 2015 attack at the Bataclan concert venue, which we experienced from a restaurant only a few hundred meters away (and which I wrote about here: A Paris Weekend In November). Then it was Kikkan Randall’s cancer, discovered only months after she won a gold medal for cross country skiing at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Life’s randomness can terrify me over my oatmeal. Fortune toys with us.

A man who was without credit or resources, the devil in his wallet—that is to say, with nothing in his wallet—thought he would do well to hang himself and put an end to his misery. After all, if he didn’t, then hunger would get him soon enough. And that’s a death of limited appeal to people who have little desire to taste death in advance.

With this intention, he chose an old shack to set the scene of his adventure. He brought a rope and went about hammering a nail high up on the wall where he wanted to attach the noose. The wall, old and dilapidated, fell down at the first hammer blow, exposing a treasure.  

Our man-in-despair gathered up the treasure and took off with it, leaving the noose and returning with gold. He didn’t bother to count—a round number or not, the sum pleased our gentlemen.

As our gallant loped away, the owner of the treasure arrived. Found his money … absent.

What? He said. I haven’t even died and I’ve lost my money? I won’t hang myself. Well, maybe I will, if only I had a rope.

The cord was ready. Only a man was missing. This new arrival attached his neck and hung himself well and good. He may have taken some consolation from the fact that someone else had covered the cost of the rope.  

A miser rarely ends his days without tears. He takes the least pleasure in the treasure he locks away, hoarding it for thieves, or for his parents or for his grave.

 Now what can we say of the barter Fortune made? That’s her way. She likes to amuse herself. The more bizarre the trick, the happier she is. This inconstant goddess might get it in her head to see a man hang himself. And the one who hangs will be the least expected.

Kikkan Randall is only 36-years old. She has no history of cancer in her family. I think we can assume that her lifestyle is above average healthy by any standard, given her physical accomplishments—5-time Olympian, World Cup victories, World Championships and more. Yet, the inconstant goddess has once again chosen to afflict someone we’d least expect. Any one of us could be next.

This is not a reason to give up and start hammering the nail for a noose. On the contrary, it is a call to notice, appreciate and enjoy the gifts Fortune has granted us.

Often when good things happen to me, a kind friend will say “you deserve it!” I’ll think, “Yes, I do.” But then a second later, I’ll also think, “Not any more than anyone else. I got lucky. Be grateful.” Because if we “deserve” everything good that comes to us, how is it possible that we don’t “deserve” the bad things, too? Yet, we are prone to think that life is unfair when things don’t go our way. As if upside is always earned and any downside is sheer randomness.

Up and down, it’s all luck. Sure, we may have worked hard for an outcome, but so has someone else, and they didn’t get the same result. And yes, it often seems as if some people have more than their share of the upside and others more than theirs of the downside. We can hoard our energy for envy, or spend it on fulfilling our own dreams.

Money isimportant, but we know it’s not the real treasure. That’s life itself. Misers lock their capacity for joy inside a wall. Why would you want that? Knock down the wall and let abundance flow.

We are all both men at once in this fable. It’s up to us whether we choose the free noose or choose, instead, to invest in living with meaning and purpose. Either way, Fortune will amuse herself. So why not treasure what we have while we have it?


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