Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I was in Anchorage a couple weeks ago for some Continued Development Training as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer, met some excellent people, and discussed some great topics related to the projects we are completing.  One of the topics was entirely related to poverty, specifically in terms of its relative and absolute values.  While the entire group of VISTA volunteers shared their thoughts and impressions on how we define poverty, my table had an internal discussion taking place by way of note-passing.  Haha, yeah, just as if we were in middle school passing notes during a lesson on the War of 1812.  But this was good kind of note-passing in the fact that we were discussing our views on poverty a little separate from what the big group was going over.

I was trying to sort my thoughts and views on money in its most basic form and how I value money as a citizen within a society that sets so much value on currency.  It's mostly assumed that in developed societies the more money and material possessions you have, the richer you are.  Well, I always am open to discussion of this related to the fact that there are several societies that have virtually no money and material possessions, yet are able to boast a life that's rich in culture, traditions, and life worth.  I'd almost say that some cultures like these can boast a better quality of life and that's what intrigues me and mostly sparks my interest in traveling.  Not that I'm serving for the Peace Corps for a tribe in Kenya; I'm in Alaska.  But the questions till remains.

What is traveling?  It's having new experiences, meeting new people, and creating new memories.  But what does one usually need in order to travel with the exception of websites like CouchSurfing and family and friend ties?  Money.  What I've done for the past 10 years or so is save my "paid time off" and money earned to use for a week or longer vacation to somewhere I've never been before.  This is part of the reason why I'm here, living in Alaska until next April.  Not that I had to save PTO to get here, but I most definitely saved a lot of money to do this without having the complete understanding that one can totally have this experience on a paycheck-to-paycheck budget.  Call me stupid, but I guess it's a good thing that I'm still able to pay my student loans with those reserves while I'm only making enough of a living stipend to barely cover my expenses each month.

What I'm trying to get at is the fact that money isn't necessarily needed to explore as much of life as you can and is only considered evil if you place a negative value on it.  Money can be seen as opportunity - the opportunity to fly overseas and explore the medieval architecture of Europe, the indigenous tribes of Africa, or the rushing waters of Rio Pacuare in Costa Rica.  It can be also be used to displace populations of people, plants and animals like some worldwide corporations do in rural Alaska and all over the world all in the name of making  or saving a bigger buck by exploring new methods of extracting natural resources.  To explain this further, the note-passing I had with two fellow VISTA volunteers during training spoke volumes.  Here's what Erik and I ended up writing off the top of our heads.  Take it for what it's worth and feel free to comment as you'd like.  I'm curious to read up on your reactions.  All said and done, I feel fortunate to have led a great life thus far and have been graced with caring people, several traveling experiences, and flexible jobs.  I do my best to not take life for granted and believe that with each traveling experience I have, the more lives I touch.  I hope you're doing your part as well in as many ways possible.


Dan: Money to me as a value is being able to make connections with people and experience cultures outside and within the US by travel, and it costs money to travel. Then again, not necessarily. The using money for travel point is rooted in my upbringing that involved several family, school, and sports trips, which all aligned with the "save for the trip" concept. Recently, since falling in love with traveling to run marathons, I basically realized I love meeting new people and having experiences - seeing new things. Traveling costs money and I usually use my saved money and paid time off from work to make these experiences happen. My point: WHY DO WE WORK?

Erik: Work - a huge concept to be sure. Work is an expression of your being - it, for me at least, is a reason to live. It expresses and creates positive inhabitants in the world. The better you work, the more fulfilled you are through, the more positivity and being-in-the-world you express. It should show who you are and let people understand you and your values. Work in America (or its current definition) hinges on money, status, and material relations. If work is reconceptualized as being-in-the-world, an expression of freedom, then it's a reason to live. You seem to be mixed on the idea of what money does. I would never ever say that money is a zero sum game - that it is either evil or it's not. In fact, money makes the world go round. In that capacity, money needs to be reconceptualized as a resource or tool and not an evil unto itself. It is just another means to an end and doesn't have any real value unto itself. Travel, your experience of new cultures, etc are a product of money, but money doesn't tie in its value (i.e. paying $2000 to go to Mexico or $100 doesn't change your experience).

The idea here - money isn't bad. It is necessary even. It is relational and has a quality that connects people to things. Don't feel bad for having it; just know how you're using it.