Our Path to Meaning

m&mCollageOn my way to the Conference on Money and Meaning…

I was speaking in my head to Dorothy Parker and she said: “If you wanna know what God thinks about money just look at the people he gives it to.” In Guanajuato they like to say: Dios les da el dinero a los ricos. It’s a good thing God gives money to the wealthy, because without it they would starve to death.

So I’m saying there’s a lot of Money without Meaning out there.

But how do we make a path toward meaning; how do we as people and entrepreneurs and citizens and lovers hold ourselves accountable to our responsibilities and our vision, to our need and our love, to our families of belonging and the Earth to which we belong? How do we engage with joy?

Some people say money is just a vehicle.  I say it is a 1957 Chevy with bad shocks and no brakes; looks good on the outside but that sucker can kill you.

My father grew up in the last non-cash economy of America, in a sharecropping subsistence that translated to 14 hours a day walking behind a mule’s ass. He left that world to work half a century in cotton mills. When I asked him why he put aside 10% of every meager paycheck for the Southern Baptist church he said: “That money’s not mine; it belongs to the Lord.” We lived in a four-room house without benefit of indoor bathroom but we were not poor.

Wendell Berry writes that “To have everything but money is to have much.”

Here, in this place and in this community, we have pleasures that money can’t buy and corporations can’t command. We have each other; we have a local economy of shared work; we have comfort when we need it. We have our stories, our long history in this bioregion. We are producers instead of consumers of meaning. This is important.

I have many disagreements with our industrial economy. It tends to value private profit over public good, speed and efficiency over enjoyment and quality, utility over mystery and meaning. Ah! Meaning, again. I hate that it does not account for affection, therefore it does not account for value, that it tends to destroy what it cannot understand, that it is based on the invasion and pillage of the earth and the poor.

I hate it that the same 400 families that sent out armadas 400 years ago to colonize the world still control most of the world’s wealth.

There are practical and elegant and redemptive alternatives. The business I founded is celebrating 33 years. We feed 10 families, allow part-time work at full-time scale, function as a team, have transparent books, own our own building, have never been capitalized, share profits with the community, try to be on the right side of history, have a primary environmental ethic in a field that is not famous for one.

I understand that every human enterprise requires factual knowledge, calculation and manipulation – we like to say we “run the numbers.” But a real and lasting economy, as well as a good business, proceeds by…





and Imagination.

Let us remember and remind the corporatocracy that the root word of property is proper, which includes right relationship.

And Economy? Economy was diminished to mean money and its accumulation of power. The true meaning of economy is “the arrangement of households.” So let us arrange our households together in a way that provides for the general not specific prosperity, that honors the Earth and the path of social justice, that brings us into right relation with others and the world, that provides in every workspace a living place of creativity, shared purpose, well-being and by that course deep and abundant wells of meaning.

Gary PhillipsGary is a writer, naturalist and entrepreneur in Silk Hope, North Carolina. He has a special interest in conservation easements and other land-protective strategies. Gary co-founded Weaver Street Realty and Auction Company in Carrboro over a quarter of a century ago and still has an office there. He lives in a rammed earth house with his wife Ilana Dubester. Gary avidly reads anthropological science fiction and many other things, studies amphibian activities on full moon nights and was once chair of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners.
Check out Gary’s blog at http://boxturtleroad.com/