Steffanie Rivers

*I was watching Oprah the other day when she had on a Hollywood movie director as her guest. The guy, Tom Shadyac, has directed blockbuster movies such as Eddie Murphy’s version of The Nutty Professor and Bruce Almighty to name a couple. But despite his success and the millions of dollars he has earned, Shadyac confessed to Oprah that he was not happy.

That lack of inner peace and a serious bike accident that forced Shadyac to face his own mortality prompted him to move out of his Hollywood mansion and into a mobile home because, he told Oprah, he no longer wanted to be a party to over-consumption. Now he plans to commit himself to promoting the idea of living life with a deeper purpose, instead of allowing society to define his success. And Shadyac produced a documentary that he said revealed how cooperation – not competition – is most important in our society.

For sure his message fit Oprah’s “ah-ha” moment standard she sets for every one of her shows: It’s the X-factor that has kept her successful for the past twenty-five seasons. And the message had universal appeal if for no other reason than, just like the Easter Sunday sermon at church, it probably will be the only message some people will hear all year. All of the above, plus the
confirmation of what I already know to be true about money and the whole happiness and fulfillment thing is okay. But I can’t help being suspicious of affluent people who try to convince the poor and middle class that wealth is not worth the pursuit. It’s as if some people realize the competition is gaining momentum so they get all philosophical to mentally throw you off your
game.

To be blunt, I’m not impressed by pretentious folk who, even when they try to appeal to the masses as down-to-earth, only confirm how vain they really are. Take Shadyac’s living conditions for example. He moved out of a 17,000 square foot mansion and into a mobile home. Okay. For sure he had to downsize, prioritize and consume less. But judging from the video that Oprah showed I’ve never seen a more poshly decorated double-wide trailer. And I’ve lived in North Carolina, the mobile home capital of the United States. And while I agree that getting people to work together for the good of mankind is the best form of asset leveraging, the people who have enough free time, enough extra money and the right connections to commit to such philanthropic efforts were competitive before they became cooperative. Capitalism always is part of the equation.

Without the $53 billion that Bill Gates has earned so far by creating Microsoft he never would have been able to give away $28 billion. And Oprah didn’t attain her billion-dollar net worth by just sitting in a chair chit-chatting. She owns a media empire. They are just two examples of people who were (and still are) competitive before they became cooperative.

Those who have the free time, an abundance of money and the connections to make a noticeable differerence probably are on a golf course or buying another mansion right now. You can catch up to them at the next sovereign society meeting.

I know it doesn’t take a million dollars to make a difference, but when millions of people are unemployed and just trying to decide between putting gas in the car or paying the utility bill promoting volunteerism is sure to fall on deaf ears. People are not short on ideas to improve the world; they are short on the resources needed to implement those ideas.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at youtube.com/steffanierivers.