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How to Be Rich
By Andy Stanley
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Andy Stanley
All rights reserved.
CELEBRATION IS IN ORDER
You can never be too rich or too thin.
Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor
By the time they brought the patient to him, the situation looked grave. "Miss A," as she was called in medical journals, was visibly stricken, and her motor skills had been reduced to semi-controlled trembles—the telltale movements of someone nearing the end. In the confusing mix of symptoms, her family suspected tuberculosis or a blood disease. She looked less like a treatable patient and more like a discarded cadaver from behind the town hospice. Her cheeks were sunken and her skin was like cheesecloth draped over a fossil. The notion that this doctor could save her was a long shot. The possibility that she would make a complete recovery was inconceivable.
Miss A's pulse was an exceptionally low forty-six, and her respiration was weak. But there was a nervous energy about her that suggested very high hormone levels. It didn't make sense. Her organ function, urine, and appetite were all normal. And yet she was clearly dying.
In 1866, modern medicine wasn't even a dream yet. There were no CAT scans or MRIs or tests to determine blood counts or endocrine levels. The practice of medicine was little more than a catalog of barbaric experiments. Common techniques included bloodletting, opium injections, electric shock, and turpentine enemas. These grotesque procedures were often the final nail in the coffin for someone already weakened by fever or infection. Diseases were the leading cause of death, followed closely by the trial methods devised to treat them.
But Miss A had been brought to Sir William Gull. And he wasn't like other doctors of his era. He valued observation over action. He was slow to treat and quick to care. While he was credited with numerous medical breakthroughs, his greatest skill was his keen bedside manner.
Perhaps it was his experience with the epidemics of the day—cholera, typhoid, and smallpox—that taught Gull to look beyond symptoms for the deeper cause of a disease. He was a holistic problem solver. And the baffling case of Miss A would require nothing less.
Most physicians would have surrendered her to death or turned her into a human lab specimen, possibly cauterizing her spine to stimulate healing or injecting her with creative concoctions designed to kill everything but the patient. But Gull was not intoxicated by the reckless practices of the day. "We treat people, not diseases," he would remind his students. He believed that many cases would resolve themselves if the physicians didn't meddle too much. Once when a lady with a rare skin disease was brought to him, Gull simply placed an extraction from one of her sores under a microscope, showed it to her, and reassured her that she would recover. It was the only treatment he gave her. And it worked.
Gull did not consider it a sign of incompetence to admit he lacked the answer to a problem either. "Fools and savages explain; wise men investigate," was one of his favorite sayings. So whenever he wasn't sure, he resorted to basic nursing duties while he continued to observe. He once wrote, "Acquaint yourself with the causes that have led up to the disease. Don't guess at them, but know them through and through if you can; and if you do not know them, know that you do not, and still inquire."
Only by immersing himself in the patient's experience did Gull manage to discover what others overlooked. The case of Miss A was to be a perfect example of this dedication. For two years he oversaw her care, methodically nursing her back to full health with a regimen of remedies. Little by little, her strength returned. And little by little, Gull gathered the certainty he needed to declare a name for the disease that had almost taken Miss A's life.
After careful consideration, he dubbed it: anorexia nervosa.
That's right. Anorexia. Sir William Gull had discovered one of the most puzzling diseases of the twentieth century—more than a hundred years before its time. He gave it the name that still haunts headlines today. And all on his own, he successfully treated dozens of cases—Miss B, Miss C, and so on—reversing the devastation and returning them to normal life. Gull meticulously documented the details of each one. And with each one he deepened our understanding of this crippling disease that offered virtually no clinical factors that a medical staff could treat.
Anorexia was one of the first psychological diseases spawned by modern industrialized culture, and it has become one of its most enduring. "It is remarkable," wrote one of Gull's colleagues, "that a disease which no one had recognized before its existence and characters were established by Gull, has since been found to exist not only in this country and on the Continent, but in America and Australia."
Anorexia is among a class of diseases that attacks the body despite the fact that it exists only in the hidden recesses of the brain—an invisible invader wreaking all-too-visible havoc. It's not a foreign agent like a virus or a bacteria or a cancerous cell. It is a sinister deception that hijacks the mind and programs it to destroy its own host organism.
RECIPE FOR DELUSION
Gull's remarkable diagnosis makes perfect sense looking backward. Anorexia was an irrational delusion of the mind—a by-product of the social pressures of the day. Throughout the 1800s, civilizations were slowly shifting away from their agrarian foundations. Cities were growing bigger and bigger. Cultures were being consolidated as people shared the same buildings and read the same newspapers. Social norms were established on a scale never seen before. Lifestyle magazines began to blanket communities, propagating unwritten codes of conduct and rules for conformity. By 1850, the number of British periodicals shot to over 100,000, and the use of engravings made pictures and sketches a regular part of the literary experience. For the first time in history, it was possible to take any idea and promote it on a massive, graphic scale. The age of the mega-peddler had begun.
Thanks to industrialization, everything was bigger too. Basic goods became enormous industries. News sources became mass media. Large factories churned out products. The age of needs-based marketing was gone. To move the massive supply of goods being manufactured, industries needed to manufacture an equally massive level of demand. And one of the concepts they began to promote was the ideal body image. Corsets were in style. Fashion was imperative. And the importance of having an hourglass figure was emphasized for women everywhere.
Whenever something is blown out of proportion in culture, it has a ripple effect. Other things get blown out of proportion too.
The ideal body in the 1800s was anything but thin. It was plump and shapely. But the corset took things in a whole new direction. To accentuate the full-figured look that everyone wanted, the lace-up corset was designed to shrink the waist, giving the appearance of fullness everywhere else. It was mostly an optical illusion at first. But the custom evolved into a trend that brought some very real ramifications. To keep up with the Joneses, women began drawing their corsets tighter and tighter. Then Mrs. Jones would tighten hers again. Over time, a woman could push things around and train her midsection to achieve enormous reductions in her waist. At its peak, the standard for an "attractive" waist was anything under twenty inches. It was not uncommon for a woman's waist to be sixteen to eighteen inches after months of training. Many women learned to breathe using only the top portion of their lungs, which caused mucus to fill their lower lungs and left them with persistent coughs.
The health implications of corsets were debated rigorously. It was a hot topic in the same way that gun control or the deficit is argued about today. It even had a name: "the corset controversy." The newspapers were filled with editorials arguing both sides. The volume of op-ed submissions on this topic hit its highest point in 1860—about the time Miss A began to struggle. While opponents called the corset a form of oppression, many of the staunchest supporters were the women who wore them. "There is not a single fashionable woman who does not wear a corset," one woman wrote. Another said, "Go without my stays? Never. I wouldn't do anything so untidy. I think a woman without corsets is most unsightly. You cannot look smart and have a pretty figure without stays. It is impossible."
In the middle of this social discourse, the young Miss A was developing her worldview and learning the ways of the world—exploring the meaning of life and discovering how to fit in. Undoubtedly, she would have been pondering these things at the height of the corset controversy.
Under the weight of this social pressure, Miss A considered the implications of being fashionable versus being comfortable. And perhaps, like numerous others, she concluded that the risk of not measuring up to society's definition of beauty was too great.
A common myth about anorexics holds that when they look in the mirror, they see a fat person. That's not really accurate. What they see is someone who would be better off just a little bit thinner. For Miss A, it probably meant she needed to tighten up her corset another inch or more, a goal she obviously accomplished several times over as she returned to her mirror and got the same feedback each time. A thin waist is an abstract ideal. It's difficult to define and impossible to own outright. At some point for Miss A, it became an irrational, immeasurable, and unattainable pursuit.
There's something about living in a civilized, industrialized culture that compromises rational thought. Agrarian people didn't seem to wrestle with it as much. It's easier to keep your priorities in perspective when they revolve around the tangible elements of survival—like your next meal. The richer you get, however, the more your priorities begin to separate from actual needs. When all of our basic requirements are met, our appetites for progress don't turn off. We simply turn from the things we need to the things we want. And that's when we enter the world of the subjective. Wants are harder to define. And easier to confuse.
In America today, there are more than eight million cases of anorexia. And it's no secret that our culture's emphasis on body image plays a huge role in that. We live in a culture that encourages us to be thin. At a time when we enjoy the most abundant food supply in the history of the world, the number of people voluntarily starving themselves to death continues to rise. The human mind is a powerful, yet fragile thing.
The irony for anorexics is that they've already mastered the thing they're working so hard to achieve. They're really good at losing weight. But they're really bad at knowing when to stop. For them, the destination has taken a backseat to the journey. They're so absorbed in the effort to get thin, they no longer recognize when they are thin.
THE RICHEST PEOPLE IN HISTORY
Anorexics aren't the only ones adrift in the world of the subjective. Our civilized, industrialized culture invites the rest of us to compromise rational thought in another way. Not only does it encourage us to be thin, it also encourages us to be rich. And the richer we become as a nation, the more our priorities seem to separate from what are true needs. Our basic requirements have long since been met, but our appetites for progress haven't begun to turn off. When we look in the mirror, we see altered versions of what's really there.
We're so absorbed in the effort to get rich, we no longer recognize when we are rich.
The truth is we're already rich. No matter where you stand on the economy, we live in the richest time of the richest nation in history. In fact, if you can read this, you're automatically rich by global standards. And it's not just because you can read and have access to books, but because you've been given the individual freedom to do so, not to mention the time. That's not the case everywhere. And it certainly hasn't been the case throughout history.
For example, in our Western culture today, we observe a five-day workweek. Think about what that means. Most people have to work only five days in order to have seven days' worth of food and shelter and clothing and health care. We take it for granted. But that's unique to our little window in history. And it's still not the case everywhere. What's more, there are households of three, four, or more people that send only one person out into the workplace to earn money. And with that one person's earnings, the entire family can amass enough money in five days to give them food and shelter for seven days. In many cultures, that's inconceivable. Outside of work, that leaves at least fifty hours per week for nothing but leisure. Most people in the world can only imagine such luxuries.
But let's be honest. Those examples don't really prove you're rich. They only serve to convince you that you're not poor. My hunch is you're a lot richer than you realize. It just doesn't feel like it. So let me give you a few more scenarios to consider.
If I told you I was offering you a job with a salary of $37,000 a year, would you feel rich? Probably not. Chances are, you wouldn't even be interested. A salary of $37,000 would represent a pay cut for most Americans. But for 96 percent of the world's population, $37,000 a year would be a significant increase.
Maybe there was a time when that sounded like a lot of money to you. And it should. In fact, if you earn more than $37,000 a year, you are in the top 4 percent of wage earners in the world! Congratulations! You are in the 4 percent club. You are rich! Yet I'm guessing this startling realization didn't cause you to leave the comfort of your couch to dance around the room. But you should have. On the world's scale, you should have no problems at all, other than a handful of rich-person problems. Problems that the majority of folks on this planet would love to have. Bad cell phone coverage? That's a rich-people problem. Can't decide where to go on vacation? Rich-people problem. Computer crashed? Slow Internet? Car trouble? Flight delays? Amazon doesn't have your size? All rich-people problems. Next time there's a watering ban in your neighborhood, just remember that many people, mostly women, carry jugs on their heads for hundreds of yards just so they can have water for cooking and drinking. They can't imagine a place where there's so much extra water that house after house just sprays it all over the ground.
Feeling guilty? I hope not. That's not my purpose. On the contrary, I'm hoping our time together leaves you feeling grateful. Guilt rarely results in positive behavior. But gratitude? Great things flow from a heart of gratitude. More on that later.
While we are comparing, consider this. What we call "poverty" today would have been considered middle class just a few generations ago. In 2000, the average "poor" family had goods and ser vices rivaling middle-class families of the 1970s: 60 percent had microwaves, 50 percent had air conditioners, 93 percent had color televisions, and 60 percent had video recorders. More impressive is the income mobility within our economy. Most poor families don't stay poor. Over the sixteen-year period tracked by one study, 95 percent of the families in the lowest income quintile climbed the economic ladder to higher quintiles. Over 80 percent moved to the top three quintiles, qualifying them as middle class or better. As Michael Cox, an economist with the Federal Reserve, noted, "The rich may have gotten a little richer, but the poor have gotten much richer."
Gallup conducted a poll to see how different socioeconomic groups defined "rich." Not surprisingly, everybody had a different definition—and nobody thought he fit it. For each and every person, "rich" was roughly double the amount possessed by the person defining it. In other words, when they interviewed people who earned $30,000 a year, that group defined "rich" as someone who earns $60,000. When they interviewed people who earned $50,000 a year, the magic number was $100,000.
Similarly, Money magazine asked its readers how much money it would take to make them feel rich. And according to the average reader of Money magazine, a person would need $5 million in liquid assets to be considered rich. Based on the trend found in the Gallup poll, the readers of Money magazine probably averaged about $2.5 million in net worth (half their definition of "rich"). Therefore, if we asked people worth $5 million to define "rich," they would probably say it was anyone worth $10 million. And on and on it goes.
The moral of the story? "Rich" is a moving target. No matter how much money we have or make, we will probably never consider ourselves rich. The biggest challenge facing rich people is that they've lost their ability to recognize that they're rich.
Silly rich people.
Hang on; our housekeeper just told me that our yard people tracked mud across our pool deck.
A THEORY OF RELATIVITY
We suffer from Maslow's dilemma. Surely you remember Abraham Maslow and his "hierarchy of needs"? No? Maslow used a pyramid to explain a phenomenon we've all experienced. In essence, he said our needs are always changing depending on our circumstances. His model starts at the bottom with what we'd all agree are basic needs, and it progresses all the way up to things that amount to luxuries—at least for the people who haven't acquired them yet.
Excerpted from How to Be Rich by Andy Stanley. Copyright © 2013 Andy Stanley. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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