Friday, June 3, 2011

No Room for Error, Part I

Life is fragile. There's no guarantee you'll live to see tomorrow or even the rest of today, for that matter. If what you think, say, and do are reflections of your character, may they be upward focused.

For most people, this consists of going to school or work to better themselves and their community. Every day, week, month, and year is another step toward achieving their ultimate goals. Graduating from college, increasing their chances of getting a well-paying job, keeping (and moving up in) said job, retiring early with enough money to live comfortably, whatever.

Of course, few consistently leave nothing to chance when taking this path. Many of life's hassles are the result of give and take, and most everyone knows what forms they encompass. Mortgages, loans, credit cards, various forms of insurance. Just about anything that's intangible which can buy you tangible goods or protection, if only for the time being. That is not to say they're intrinsically evil, but far too many people bank their future on nothing more than empty promises.

I mentioned in an earlier post that more than three-quarters of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. When you think of it, that's a scary number in today's turbulent economy. As long as the cost of living goes up while wages remain stagnant (or get cut altogether), people will resort to using money that's not even there. Sure, they can drop a service here and save a little extra there, but life is not about downsizing. It's about growth and prosperity that blossoms in time. I can certainly sympathize with individuals, couples, and families who do all they can to keep their head above water without drowning in debt. Yet, part of me wonders if all their efforts are in vain.

Allow me to explain myself.

I believe every American born after World War II has been surreptitiously conditioned into fighting a lifelong "battle", one in which everyone else is seen as the competition. I hold this to be true because everyone, including yours truly, see others for what they have versus what they don't have. As a hypothetical example, take two colleagues of equal ability, experience, and intelligence who drive different cars. One of the cars is a 2011 Ford Escort, another is a 1999 Ford Taurus, and the other is lead singer Ric Ocasek. (Just kidding.) But of the first two, the one driving the Escort will be looked upon with greater favor because it symbolizes a keeping up with the times. Sure, the Taurus may be cheaper and just as reliable, but nothing about it says progress.

Depending on how you dice it, the aforementioned example can go one of two ways. If you side with the owner of the Escort, he (or she) will spend years making payments just to retain the title and registration, money which could be spent on other endeavors. If you side with the owner of the Taurus, he (or she) will spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on maintenance, money which could be spent on other endeavors.

There is no clear cut winner because they're all losers in the long run. The Escort may have been purchased with good intentions, but nothing screams haughtiness like a brand new car. Likewise, the Taurus may have been chosen because it's affordable, but it'll cost more to keep it running than to buy it in the first place. Someone's the leader, someone's the follower, and either way, all are led astray.

So what's the point? Where's the happy ending?

There is none, for both questions, because the underlying premise for either purchase is a fine line to tight rope between necessity and luxury few cross unscathed. The definitions of necessity and luxury have become so blurred, there's a huge gray area where once was black and white. It's become hard to tell anymore whether anything can be exclusively labeled a need or a want. Without that compass, that sense of direction, people have no room for error when coordinating the day-to-day operations called life.

And there's more to life than being a slave to the almighty dollar.

To Be Continued...

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