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People Are More Important Than Stuff

Updated on September 9, 2014

Living things have more value than material possessions

Once upon a a writing assignment.... I was asked to write about my most prized possession. I spent nearly a week almost agonizing over this question. I wandered around my house looking at all my things, contemplating which was more valuable and trying the suggested scenario of "If you suddenly had to evacuate, what would you save?"

A week of contemplation made the answer rather clear: none of this stuff is genuinely important compared to the lives of my housemates and our pets.

Leaving A Whole Life To Start Another

Don't get me wrong. I have all sorts of stuff in my life I really like: clothing, my computer, my Goddess figurine collection, dozens of books, furniture that's been handed down and my security blanket that I've had since childhood and still sleep with every night.

But if it really came down to it, I'd be willing to let all of that go in exchange for being able to make sure another person or living creature was saved instead.

My dad's parents grew up in Germany. My father would have grown up there too, except for the fact that his parents were Jewish. In the late summer of 1939, having managed to get my grandfather out of a concentration camp right as they were converting from enforced labor to extermination, my grandparents fled their home in order to save their lives. They weren't hardly able to take anything with them. My grandmother was pregnant with my dad at the time, and he turned out to be the most important thing they had with them.

"Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend. Non-being is the greatest joy."

- Lao Tzu

The Second Noble Truth

In Buddhism, the Second Noble Truth is "the origin of suffering is attachment." If you stop and really think about that, you might realize how much of what you feel isn't right with your life relates to "stuff." You feel you can't live without your Blackberry, or that you couldn't survive without a car, or that you need certain clothing or items in order to be accepted in society.

None of that is true. You just have very strong attachments to your stuff, things that are all ultimately impermanent. Buddhism teaches that you can end suffering in your life and the world by cultivating compassion and learning to detach yourself from feelings of attachment to random stuff.

"Time is not important.

Life is important."


The Disaster Scenario

I was living in the Bay Area when the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake struck on October 17th, just after 5pm. In fact, I was living and working in Santa Cruz, which wasn't at all that far from the epicenter. That had to be one of the most hair-raising and longest minutes of my life.

The woman standing next to me in the doorway of the office where I worked lost her brother in the collapse of Bookshop Santa Cruz onto the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting building. A woman who was a friend of mine was good friends with a second woman killed in that same building collapse. I was fortunate that no one I knew personally was injured.

My house was still standing when I got home and the only part that was really damaged was the chimney. Hundreds of people were left homeless, their houses too damaged to stay in. My bedroom looked like the entire thing had been picked up and shaken by a gigantic baby and put down again. It was a student household, and there were seven of us. Once we got the gas shut off, our biggest concern were the two house cats, both of whom had vanished. Lucky for us, one came home late that night and the second came home the next day. Many animals are so panicked by a quake they run away and can't find their way home again afterwards.

I spent weeks sleeping with a packed bag next to my bed, waking up multiple times each night from aftershocks and ready to flee at a moment's notice. All I had in the bag was my ID and money, a change of clothes and sturdy shoes. Everything else I was prepared to leave if need be.

The most precious possession that ever comes to a man in this world is a woman's heart.

How much do you value the people in your life?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      great stuff!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Very creative!

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      9 years ago from USA

      Very nice.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I am most definitely people oriented. Things can be replaced. People cannot. Your disaster stories are a perfect example for that, too. I was always told that if a problem can be fixed with dollars, it is not a real problem. As I continue on my decluttering campaign today, I will remember this lens! Blessed by a joyful angel!


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