The need for relevance killed Gatsby, not love –

I read of Huntington Hartford of the now defunct A&P supermarket this weekend. Leading me to Hartford was an article that implied how inheritance and windfalls generally make less overall good to the inheritor (and by extension to the world) than to those who’ve accumulated their wealth over a long period of time. The grind and toil are necessary if anything is to become of the wealth.

My personal observation and experience confirms this. I’ll start with a disclaimer: I am an Asian. I have many relatives who went to the most expensive international schools, then to colleges paid for by their parents, all while living an Instagram lifestyle in houses paid for by their parents.

“A happy childhood has spoiled many a promising life” (Robertson Davis) that by the time they come to their senses (a full thirty, sometimes forty years later), there’s a supposed shame and embarrassment of starting at an entry level position. That the first step must be taken to reach the second is missed on them.

Contrast that to my Tibetan neighbor – thirty-two, registered nurse, owner of a nice townhome (on a fifteen-year plan, 20% down), but also a refugee, who shielded his younger sister from bullets while on their escape to India through the Himalayas. Once a yak-herd, he entered his first classroom at thirteen, and is now an accomplished nurse.

He defined himself in humbler ways than did my privileged relatives who had a “sense of entitlement”, and so prospered over time. His younger sister, he ensured, also became a registered nurse.

All that aside, the guy’s pretty hip – drives a Subaru. He recently left for India to see his mother after nearly twenty years.

Theirs is a confirmation that the American dream is alive. Why the same can’t be true for everyone else most certainly has to do with the different ways we live and the perspectives we keep. “The most massive characters are seared with scars,” said Gibran – talking of people much like the Americans that saw through the great depression and made successes of themselves.

I grew up in one “Asian” country that does not do working while in school – and you wouldn’t be in school if you were poor. There’s a clear class distinction. Over the years, the internet has drastically changed perspectives, and made the world more homogeneous – but the idea of waitressing is still frowned upon. There’s a family name to uphold.

Just the other day, I wrote about my $35 wedding, and my mother’s insistence on a “real” wedding. I do not blame her – it is difficult for her, especially since my parents are still part of a community where the Joneses must be beaten, in more glitter.

This is how marriages in my community has evolved in my lifetime – the first wedding I remember was my uncles. I was about ten. There was (and still is) a reception hall in town where everyone got married. Weddings were a communal event. Every wedding had the same people, and the same food. The same men got drunk. 

That changed when few marriages moved to hotels, and to five-star hotels. The precedence was set. Now everyone who’s anyone marries in a five-star hotel. Often times weddings are held on separate days, for the different sets of guests – the subtle placement is not missed on any of the guests.

I left my community for college many years ago. The years and the distance has steered me towards ways that made sense to me.

They no longer call on us – my mother speaks of an uncle, who for years circled around my parents.

Money dictates – she tells me. I feel for my parents, once prosperous, now decent, but on lower rungs to their peers – financially middle class, socially upper middle.

Sensing that it bothered me, she adds: These don’t bother us. You remain humble and steadfast. These will change as well.

I believe my mother’s calm conviction, and I sleep well that night. My parents are wise to realize they shouldn’t be bothered. I want my parents to be immune even to inconsequential prangs like these. I want my parents to be relevant, even in the superficial ways I don’t adhere to.

For myself, I try to cultivate my belief that there is more to life than my relevance in my community. Our pursuit of FI helps our cause – our true calling is to the greater good of more than ourselves, in our own small ways. That will define who we are, and our relevance in the truest.

In the end, the need for relevance killed Gatsby, not love.