Where Greed is a Virtue

By Jin-yeong Yi

“For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”

—The Bible, 1 Timothy 6:7 (King James Version)

“Own nothing! Possess nothing! Buddha and Christ taught us this, and the Stoics and the Cynics. Greedy though we are, why can’t we seem to grasp that simple teaching? Can’t we understand that with property we destroy our soul?

Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag. Use your memory! Use your memory! It is those bitter seeds alone which might sprout and grow someday.”

—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Though Solzhenitsyn’s advice seems at best impractical and at worst unworkable (because if one doesn’t take care of one’s own material needs, someone else will have to), his words do resonate with me, for at least two reasons. One is that I tend to value the nonmaterial over the material. I find that I desire knowledge, skills, and experiences more than I do luxuries such as fine cuisine, expensive clothes, and sports cars. The latter are merely symbols of wealth; the former is wealth, and wealth of the finest kind. Knowledge is purer than money, because the former can be shared without being divided. The love of the nonmaterial is not about being ascetic; on the contrary, it’s about being greedy, and greedy to the extreme–but for the intangibles rather than the tangibles. Furthermore, a person is not what he or she buys, but what he or she earns by living a purposeful life.

Another reason is that I’m well aware that I’m going to die someday. I have no idea when; it could be later tonight, for all I know. On the off chance that there is an eternal afterlife and death is the beginning of a new journey, I’m sure that what I store up in my head and heart will serve me better than what I store up in my home. And I like the idea of traveling lightly.      

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