The 1st of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Wealth without Work.

Once upon a time in this great country, a model for attaining wealth and a set of rules to accomplish this objective stemmed from 3 basic beliefs.  These were:

  1. You worked hard, long and industriously.
  2. You attained as much education as you could absorb and afford.
  3. You treated all of your engagements with absolute honesty and scrupulousness.

Somewhere during the later 20th Century these 3 Cardinal beliefs (Above) about attaining great wealth were replaced by the following beliefs:

  1. Wealth can be attained at a gambling casino or by winning a lottery if you are lucky enough.
  2. Wealth can be attained by suing someone and with the help of a lawyer who will thereby gain a percentage of your lawsuit.
  3. Wealth can be attained by finding some means of attaining a government handout for the remainder of your life.

Admittedly, not all Americans subscribe to the second set of beliefs and fortunately there are many who still subscribe to the first. Nevertheless, I think you would be hard pressed to argue that gambling, casinos, government handouts and lawsuits have not multiplied exponentially over the past fifty years.  The following are some charts which I think illustrate my points rather graphically.

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The nature of human beings is to want things fast and with a minimum of effort.  This is normal and not to be thought of as deviant or unusual. However, as we age and develop more self-control and wisdom over our daily affairs, we learn to temper our desire for “Instant Pudding” with a more mature perspective.  Noted quality guru, Dr. W.E. Deming maintained that people wanted “Instant Pudding.”  For Deming this meant, change without effort, quality without work and cost improvements overnight.  Added together, “Instant Pudding” was Dr. Deming’s metaphor for the desire to obtain results with a minimum investment of time and energy.  Dr. Deming continually warned his clients that there was no “Instant Pudding” and change would take years of hard work and could not be accomplished without continued dedication and focus.

Unfortunately our media and even schools today seem to emphasize the possibility of achieving success and wealth overnight.  Sports stars are depicted as suddenly being offered incredible contracts. Movie stars are shown as going from unknown to overnight fame and fortune. Singers and musicians seem to suddenly achieve fame despite being barely out of their teens and in many cases barely into their teens. It would appear that everywhere we look fame, fortune and success happen overnight. All it takes is to be discovered. This might happen if you can get on American Idol or be found by the right booking agent or obtain a guest appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.  In some cases, all it takes is the right YouTube video to accomplish overnight success. One day Psi was an unknown Korean musician and in a few short weeks, he was celebrating success by a dinner in the White House and appearing on the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration.  How can anyone dispute that all that is required for fame and fortune is to be in the right place at the right time?

You may be asking “yes, but what exactly did Gandhi mean by this “sin.”  The M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence gives the following explanation:

Wealth Without Work: This includes playing the stock market; gambling; sweat-shop slavery; over-estimating one’s worth, like some heads of corporations drawing exorbitant salaries which are not always commensurate with the work they do. Gandhi’s idea originates from the ancient Indian practice of Tenant Farmers. The poor were made to slog on the farms while the rich raked in the profits. With capitalism and materialism spreading so rampantly around the world the grey area between an honest day’s hard work and sitting back and profiting from other people’s labor is growing wider. To conserve the resources of the world and share these resources equitably with all so that everyone can aspire to a good standard of living, Gandhi believed people should take only as much as they honestly need. The United States provides a typical example. The country spends an estimated $200 billion a year on manufacturing cigarettes, alcohol and allied products which harm people’s health. What the country spends in terms of providing medical and research facilities to provide and find cures for health hazards caused by over-indulgence in tobacco and alcohol is mind-blowing. There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed, Gandhi said.

There is a visual problem here that perhaps underlies much of the current thinking about success. The media loves to trumpet short success stories that will grab anyone’s attention. We are constantly bombarded with headlines such as:

Each of these sites (click on to hyperlink to the actual site) promises you overnight success or at least success in a much shorter time span than is realistic. These ads are in the news, checkout stands, on TV and just about anywhere you turn around. The constant daily bombardment of such ads creates a zeitgeist in which overnight success not only seems to be possible; but it actually seems to be the norm.  If you are not an overnight success, if you cannot become rich in days rather than years, if you contemplate a life of hard work to attain your fame and fortune, than something is wrong with you.  Anyone subscribing to the first 3 sets of beliefs I mentioned in the opening is a peculiar species today.  The most common belief about success in the new millennium can be summed up as:

I don’t have time to wait. I don’t have the patience to wait.  I don’t want to spend my life waiting.  I am entitled to success now.  Why should I have to wait?  I am as good as any of these rich successful people. If only everyone could see how good I really am, I would get the fame and fortune I deserve now.  If you expect me to shut up and work hard, I will leave and go elsewhere. You need me more than I need you.

I believe that Gandhi and many of my generation would find such ideas very peculiar not to mention that they contradict certain universal principles. Every time I hear of a new terrorist attack in this country or a new massacre at some workplace, I wonder how much the instigator was influenced by his or her desire for overnight fame and fortune.  In some bizarre out-of-this-world thinking, these maniacs equate their picture on page one of the news with a sort of glory that is accomplished by their bizarre and cruel rampage. The more they kill or maim, the greater they think their glory will be.  We can look for all the “reasons” why but we will never find any “good” reasons for anyone to take such anti-social actions against others. The paradox is that often the very people they hate are the ones they wanted attention or recognition from.

Ok, time for questions:

Have you raised your children to believe in hard work?  Are you one of the parents who want to make sure their kids have it easy?  How do you know how much hard work is enough?  Do you think you are entitled to success because or if you work hard?  What other factors play a role in success?  Is it fair that some people do not seem to have to work hard and yet still reap big rewards?  Do people today have it too easy compared to the immigrants that founded this country?

Life is just beginning.

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. How To Earn Money Easily For Teenagers
    Feb 07, 2014 @ 05:03:21

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    Mar 10, 2014 @ 02:41:51

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  4. Hans
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 02:59:24

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  5. Amelia
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 05:59:05

    Howdy! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept chatting about this.
    I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read.

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    Reply

  6. georgekao
    Feb 17, 2016 @ 19:50:40

    Found this article by searching What did Gandhi mean by “wealth without work”? Thank you for your thoughtful perspective.

    I’d like to apply this one step further.

    As a successful entrepreneur myself, I’ve been tempted to build my business to the point where it no longer needs me… I can take months of vacations every year, while my staff run the business and I continue to reap the profits.

    Whenever I’ve gotten close to that, it feels unsettling, and very unfulfilling.

    Then I scale back my business, to the point where it’s clear that when I take money from people, I’m personally giving them equal or greater value, and it feels like “an honest pay for an day’s work.” There’s meaning again in the money that’s received. There’s dignity in having a just and balanced exchange.

    If I’m able to make my business systems more streamlined and efficient, such as automating certain processes, then instead of always seeking more profits, I can lower the price to serve more people, or start giving away some things (previously sold) for free, perhaps with some kind of exchange such as feedback or pay-it-forward.

    Reply

  7. vidya
    Jan 07, 2017 @ 16:02:10

    I gave a short talk in my class based on this topic and your blog was very useful in filling a lot of gaps in my notes. Thank You so much sir.

    Reply

  8. As California
    Sep 04, 2017 @ 10:51:23

    Hi! I also found this site while doing a search for Gandhi’s exact words about wealth without work, and was pleasantly surprised in reading this entry to see quotes by Dr. Deming, my father’s hero, whose philosophy I’ve thus been raised hearing my whole life. Since one of my personal rules of life is, “there is no magic diet pill to life,” I think there’s a lot of good stuff here!

    I want to push back a little on one of the three “new” principles however, specifically the comment about government handouts. What I and my sister (who currently makes a six figure salary) learned throughout our lives is that the so-called “social safety net” is there because things can happen in our lives beyond our control, necessitating public assistance. In my sister’s case, when my father had two strokes while she was still a student, and I was thousands of miles away, struggling with my chronic illness and thus barely making it myself, she had no choice but to go on food stamps for a time, until she finished school, got a great job, and was again able to afford care for herself and my father. His Medicare also helped her with that, just as the Affordable Care Act helped me when I lost my job and had no other way to afford my preexisting condition. As you pointed out, Gandhi believed that individuals shouldn’t take more than they needed – that doesn’t eliminate need however, and Gandhi was a staunch advocate for the poor. (Being an Indian myself, I know a decent amount about Gandhi too. 😉

    I guess the other principle I’m arguing for is one that I had to learn in therapy, which is implicit in my “no magic diet pill to life” belief: nothing is Black and white. This is why I push back on aphorisms or “words of wisdom.” While it would be nice if life was consistent and fair, and everybody could live a life where they would never be in need for assistance from the government or family or what have you, I find that’s not reality for many people. I cringe when I hear people decry government assistance as a “handout,” when it’s only a handout for those who abuse it – in my experience, many people use it when they run out of any other option. Just my $.02.

    Reply

    • johnpersico
      Sep 04, 2017 @ 13:54:29

      I think your comments are right on the mark. I hope I did not give the wrong impression about what people call “government handouts.” I am a believer that we all “get by with a little help from others.” I think a society must be built on compassion for those less able than others. It is not always possible to teach someone to fish and sometimes it is simply necessary to distribute the fish as Jesus did on the mountain with his loaves and fishes. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I am very glad that you found my article helpful. Dr. Deming was my hero also and one whose philosophy has formed the foundation for my consulting practice.

      Reply

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