When wealth, power and access to still more power isn’t enough

I have been loosely following the story of the Special Counsel Investigation headed by Robert Mueller. Over the last year, I’ve watched a parade of people become ensnared, apprehended and convicted. At this level of power, even the wealthy cop a plea for a softer landing in prison. It is fascinating to me to see how people at the top can be seduced by even more power and wealth, to the point of committing a crime.

I’ve been looking at people like Michael Fynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos, people who have all been tried and convicted and/or copped a plea bargain. It strikes me as interesting that all of those people have seen far more wealth than most Americans can only dream of. Why would they even need to be involved in shady dealings, shell companies and networks of people when they already had access to power and money?

I’m thinking of Manafort here, since he is the inspiration for this article and he has had 5 properties at prime locations in his possession, and at one point he said he had a net worth of $28 million. Isn’t that enough money to be happy? Let’s assume for the moment, that in an alternate universe he manages to eke out $10 million in cash and just decide to “retire” before committing any crime.

With $10 million in cash, he could park it in a Vanguard mutual fund that earns on average, 5% a year. That’s $500,000 a year for doing nothing but parking money. He could then sell $200,000 of equity out of his investment every year and let the rest compound and still earn more money over time. After paying 20% in capital gains, he’d still have plenty of money left over to do some really cool stuff. And he’d have time to do it.

$200,000 a year is a plush life from the perspective of 90% of Americans today. $200k a year for doing nothing but parking money is like a stipend, a trust fund, or, dare I say it, basic income. The wealthy have this basic income going that most of us are unaware of, then they claim that they’re “entrepreneurs” without mentioning this basic income. I’m thinking Trump kids here.

But there is something else. The people who have been caught up in the Mueller investigation, they had all the trappings of power, wealth and access to more power still. Yet, whatever they had wasn’t enough, they wanted still more and they were willing to risk everything for it. They have been caught acting on the belief that more reward will make them happier. More reward can be used to blot out personal pain. But there isn’t enough reward in the world to do for them what they want it to do, or they wouldn’t be in the headlines today.

I think it’s a fair bet that all of them suffered some form of abuse from their parents and other people in their lives. That abuse could range from spanking, to neglect, silent treatment, isolation and who knows what else. In America, we have been raised to believe that happiness comes from outside of us. The corollary is that we can make other people unhappy. We can change other people by making them happy or unhappy.

I see the men who have been convicted by Mueller and wonder, how is it that all that wealth, power and access to more power, could not be enough? I also wonder, how they can ever find peace of mind from a jail cell after suffering a nearly complete and total humiliation by the system that they once profited so handsomely by?

All of them could have made the choice to accept the wealth they had as enough, long before committing any crime or even before they got caught. They are all very smart people from what I can tell. They went to the right schools, had all the connections, and the world was their oyster. But it wasn’t enough.

I’m not wealthy by American standards, but by worldwide standards, I’m “well off”. 2.5 billion people don’t even have access to a toilet, and I have one, so I must be doing something right.

I wake every morning and lay my head on a pillow each night, all the while accepting that what I have is enough. And every day, I make a conscious decision to let everything that I have right now, be enough. I make a conscious decision to err on the side of peace every day. In difficult times, I may have to make that decision every minute, but I do it. I don’t waste time on anything else.

This isn’t to say that the men who have been convicted by Mueller are bad people. I think it’s fair to say that those who have been convicted lacked the skills and capacity to respond proactively to the demands of their environment. I’m fairly certain that they were addicted to the high from acquiring wealth and exercising power, and that they developed a tolerance for it. It is possible to get used to wealth and power.

I’m not offering a defense for their behavior here. I’m just saying that they lacked the capacity to do better. How guys like Manafort get to where they are is a matter of skill, not character. Manafort learned the skill of obscuring wealth through paperwork. And since he was a political consultant, I have to wonder how much value he created with his skills.

Yes, Manafort might have made better choices, but he didn’t. Yes, he’s an adult, but he made mistakes that he has paid dearly for and will continue to keep paying. Will that penance teach him any skills of value to himself or society?

When powerful men and women are exposed as corrupt, I see that punishment and reward don’t work. The reason they doesn’t work is that neither punishment nor reward teach new skills. They are however, great for reinforcing behavior once a new skill is learned. Just ask any circus animal.

Power and money are addictive. They can also be useful tools for doing great things, but like every sword, they have two edges and it is up to use to decide how to use them. Unless we have the skills we need to act for our own good and the greater good, there isn’t enough power or money to save ourselves.

Acceptance is a skill. I use it everyday. I use acceptance as a means of avoiding the temptation for corruption and doing corrupt acts. I see the universe as a system that is always seeking a state of equilibrium. Corrupt acts upset that balance, that state of equilibrium. Corrupt acts upset my peace, so I don’t do them. To have peace, I must accept myself and my circumstances as they are, without reservation.

Acceptance is also a launchpad for doing great things, big and small. Acceptance also makes it easier to do things we enjoy for something other than money or power. When we accept ourselves, we don’t need money or power to influence other people. We just do what we enjoy doing and share it if we want to.

There is one other benefit of acceptance that is often missed. Have you ever been lost while driving? Have you ever been on a ride with someone who refused to ask for directions? To find your way, acceptance is required. First, you look at the street signs and see if you can find yourself on a map. Or you can accept that you’re lost and ask for directions. Once you have identified your location, you must accept your location before you can set course for your destination. Then you can proceed with your journey. Wherever we go, there we are.

I can’t read their minds, but I’d say that the people who have been convicted by Mr. Mueller so far, were convicted because whatever they had wasn’t enough. Had they been taught the skill of acceptance, they might have made better choices and avoided the headlines.

Write on.

Originally published at steemit.com on September 25, 2018.

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.