"I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money..." ~ Socrates
A primary theme of this blog is that the greatest financial success does not originate in financial form -- this kind of success is but an incidental consequence of pursuing meaning in one's life.
A return to this theme of virtue preceding financial wealth comes today as a result of finishing a book last night with my two sons, ages 8 and 4. This particular passage is the inspiration for this week's blog message:
As much money and life as one could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all -- the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.
Before I reveal the name of the book and author, please allow me to establish a bit of general background: This book is the first published by this particular author and the book's general theme is one of the classic good versus evil. Of course, the good prevails, at least temporarily, at the end of the book because the evil fell victim to its own excessive greed for wealth and power. Naturally, the very reason that the good prevailed is quite the opposite: The virtues of contentment and altruism -- the tendencies to receive energy from helping others -- its radiant selflessness -- is how the good prevails in this book.
As you may have guessed, the book's genre is fiction/fantasy. As you may not have guessed, the author wrote the book while surviving on welfare and went on to achieve something extremely rare in the literary world -- financial wealth beyond what most would imagine:
- The author's first book was followed by a series of related books, which turned into a wildly popular series of films.
- Overall book sales for the series to date are over 400 million copies.
- The author's cumulative wealth to date approaches $1 billion (that's billion with a 'B').
- The author is now known for being a great philanthropist, forming a foundation with an annual budget surpassing $5 million, plus generous giving to other charities. On philanthropy, the author has been quoted as saying, "I think you have a moral responsibility when you've been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently."
- The author never set out to be financially wealthy. She wrote because she received great pleasure in the act of writing (Any person calling themselves "a writer" knows that money can not be a realistic motivator. In fact, in the beginning of her career, the author's publisher wisely advised her to "keep your day job").
By now, you may have guessed that this author is J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series of books, which inspired the films of the same name. One thing I never knew until writing this post is that the first book was originally titled, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The title of the American release of the book (and subsequent film) removed the word Philosopher and replaced it with Sorcerer -- a change that Rowling fought but was not powerful enough at the time to prevent -- and hence became what is now Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone.
The Philosopher's Stone seems a much more apt sub-title for the story: The stone, of course, is the enabler of unlimited wealth and life. In the book, the physical stone is destroyed, which (temporarily) removes the threat of evil. The implicit message at the end of the book, spoken to Harry Potter by the good wizard Dumbledore, is that virtue is not given by the possession of material things -- it is found within; and by the giving to a cause greater than one self.
The destruction of the stone, therefore in my humble opinion, is a metaphor for virtue: The virtuous are content with or without material wealth. The non-virtuous are unhappy without it and will destroy themselves to acquire it -- and once they acquire it, if they ever do, they often discover that material wealth does not provide what they were originally seeking.
Adding to this message of virtue is that J.K. Rowling acquired her unimaginable wealth as an unintended consequence of pursuing meaning, given at the lowest point of her financial wealth.