Where should we put personal status and reputation in our priorities? What about friendship? Wealth?
Philosophers have been working on this one for a while, but I’d like to propose a heuristic. I’d argue that it takes both gain and loss to really know the value of something.
They say “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” But the climb to gain something or gain something back can be a teacher as well. It gives us a clear picture of the costs of getting the thing we want.
The nature of the gain and the nature of the loss both matter.
If a thing is easy to gain and easy to lose, we shouldn’t be too torn up about getting it, keeping it, or losing it. Let others compete for these.
Consider credit, attention, and status. All of these can be earned by talk rather than action. They’re fickle friends who will abandon you in need and come back to you as fairweather friends.
Wealth, like friendship and romantic relationships, is hard to win but easy to lose. We should treat wealth with respect. It’s not for everyone, and it will not stay with us if we do not maintain it. But being easy to lose, we should hold wealth loosely.
On the other hand, if a thing is hard to gain and hard to lose, it can be relied on to outlast the storms of life and the mistakes of its owner.
But as the Stoics would point out, it’s character which is valuable above all. Character must be earned with difficulty, and it cannot be corrupted or lost easily once earned. Yes, a reputation for honesty may be ruined, but a commitment to honesty will stand by its owner.
This reminds me of a quote from Jesus:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
In other words, value the things which are neither gained easily nor easily corrupted or destroyed.
Intellectual Credits: The Stoics (Marcus Aurelius and crew)