Thursday, July 17, 2014

Living abundantly

Chelsea Clinton now earns significant honoraria as a speaker, sometimes as much as $75,000 for an hour-long speech. When I learned about those fees, I had three thoughts.

First, this is capitalism in action. Capitalism promotes people earning as much as they legally can. The Clintons (Bill and Hillary each receive as much as $200,000 per speech) are far from alone in receiving large fees for speeches or public appearances. Reagan, shortly after leaving the White House received a total of $2 million for two speeches he made in Japan. Unease over theses large fees points to a more basic unease with respect to capitalism: capitalism, for all of its merits, constitutes an inadequate ethic by which to live. Along with others, Ayn Rand was wrong when she argued the opposite. Money and self-reliance are insufficient to produce, much less assure, happiness.

Second, why would anyone carp about what Chelsea Clinton receives for a speaking engagement? (For an example of someone who did, cf. Maureen Dowd's column, "Isn't It Rich?" New York Times, July 12, 2014.) For better or worse and for a variety of reasons, all three Clintons are easy targets for critics. However, regardless of who the speaker or person making the appearance is, cashing in on one's popularity somehow seems cheap and demeaning. Although veniality is not criminal, it is not morally admirable either. This cheapening diminishes the ability of a sports figure to be a role model for youth, the glamor of an entertainment celebrity, and the credibility of a politician.

Third, why would anyone (or any organization) pay such a substantial fee to hear Chelsea Clinton speak on any topic? The answer is almost invariably that the person or organization paying the fee hopes to somehow obtain influence or prestige (which is simply a form of potential influence) through the connection. The hoped for influence may be with the audience invited to the event, with the recipient of the fee, or both. This aspiration for influence is consistently the motive regardless of the speaker's ideological orientation, achievements, etc.

If the goal is gaining influence with the speaker, money at a minimum buys access and at the other extreme buys the speaker's loyalty. Neither may be illegal, though the latter may come close to bribery. In the case of Chelsea Clinton, the large fees may reflect the payer hoping to gain influence with one or both of her parents.

As a teen, I recognized that I had the abilities and potential to earn sufficient income to care for myself, perhaps even to become truly wealthy. As I reflected on that possibility and read biographies of people who had accumulated much wealth, I concluded that wealth was insufficient to ensure happiness, i.e., living an abundant life. Something more was required to make life meaningful and richly textured. I found that something more in developing loving relationships with others, in enjoying and caring for the world in which we live, and in glimpses of the ultimate. I wonder whether Chelsea Clinton, and others who receive such large fees for speeches or public appearances, have settled for something less.

Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles in their book, Big Bucks, contrast a successful life with a significant life:

Blanchard and Bowles, Big Bucks
Joy = Energy
Purpose = Drive
Creativity = Value

Which do you lead? Which do you want to lead?

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