Creating Wealth from Nothing
Times are depressing. Just a few months ago, I saw yet another one of the many shops that closed down in my neighborhood. Next month, I’ll be saying goodbye to a friend who has been looking for a job in New York for almost a year only to find it in Hong Kong. It was Kung Hei Fat Choy for him. We celebrated the Chinese New Year in his house, and we went home with knick knacks he won’t be taking with him.
But for those who can’t leave, the state of the US economy is something that one has to bear like a bad flu that does not want to go away. I’ve heard people talk about “waiting for the economy to get better.” The truth is, the economy will not get better if everybody waited for it to get better. Something has to happen to jumpstart it. With little money flowing into the system to fund ideas, it seems to be quite a quandry.
Economic upturns are the sum total of individual efforts. This is the very ideological basis for Adam Smith’s economic philosophy in his celebrated work “An Inquiry and causes of the Weath of Nations”. According to him, "by pursuing his own interest, [the individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he intends to promote it.”
But what can a person do when he’s forced to eat away his savings? Go on a diet? How can you pursue your interest in an economic climate that discourages doing anything?
The Egyptians considered the Scarab a sacred symbol of the sun god. Scarabs are actually dung beetles. These little beetles embed larvae into little rolled up dung. Because of this, the Scarab became a symbol to remind the ancient Egyptians that new life is born from waste.
This idea is also found in the Story of the Seven Days of Creation. It is common belief that before light, nothing existed. But that is not true. Before light, there was Tohu and Bohu, or Desolation and Waste.
Desolation is used to describe ruins, or emptiness. In some translations the word void is used. Waste is sometimes translated as without form. Things that lie around the house doing nothing have value. Hobbies have value. To a sculptor and a recycler, scrap metal has value. It is just a matter of changing the way you look at these wastes.
What was once wasted materials or wasted time, become raw materials or training when you begin to see them that way.
Your Void is also your unresolved needs and your failures. There was a man in my neighborhood who hated plumbers. He constantly complained that there was not a single good plumber in the city. A few years later, I heard he opened the most profitable and efficient plumbing business in his area. His discontent with the present plumbing services turned out to be the cue that he was actually a genius plumber waiting to be recognized—by himself.
Angelina Jolie has been quoted to lament about how her father abandoned her as a child. It is ironic that she gained global prominence after she took it upon herself to rescue abandoned children from countries like Cambodia, Vietnam and Africa. It was both her father’s abandonment and celebrity that became the very materials that catapulted her to fame. Today, she is one of the most respected and highest paid personalities in Hollywood.
Sometimes, the desolation and waste are internal ones. Virginia Wolfe lamented in her famous essay entitled, A Room of One’s Own : “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
Apart from being able to write celebrated works of fiction later on, Virginia Wolfe’s words paved the way for women’s empowerment in literature. Her experience of financial dependency, the desolation of her dreams of writing fiction in her own terms; they are materials that enabled her to create literary work that made this a reality for women today. Her work lives on, enabling millions of women to write fiction in their own rooms and to make their own money.
The current climate of lack and the burgeoning needs of the country is filled with wasted talent, wasted materials and wasted time. This is the climate that calls for new sparks of creativity to inspire better ways of living. Most of the time, when we see wasted oppurtunities connect to our feelings of lack, it inspires us to create from what seems like nothing more than just a brilliant idea.