You Can Buy a Lot of Things, But Not Self-Respect (DE Coast Press)

Closeup of multiple credit cards

Will Rogers said: “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” And we know that it’s true. In my experience, much of this spending, buying and impressing comes from one thing: A lack of self-respect. If you respect yourself, you don’t need to spend money other than for your own or your loved ones’ sake, or maybe a charity or a cause that you value.

This isn’t the same as compulsive spending, where one spends money to help control irrational anxiety. Irrational anxiety is based on false premises, thoughts and ideas. Examples include thoughts like, “I must spend in order to look a certain way.” Or, “I must look ‘cool’ and please others. Otherwise, I’m nobody.” If your primary standard of value is concern over how you look to others, then that’s an irrational motive. You don’t live life for others. You live for yourself and for people or causes that are important to you. You live by your own choice, your own values and your own standards.

The minute you start living for others, you’ll need to constantly put on a show. Buying things is a way to put on that show. “If I own this [car, house, clothing, whatever] then I’ll be worthwhile.” But things don’t make you worthwhile. They can be an indication of what you’ve accomplished, but you accomplish things through the competent use of your mind. That’s what makes you worthwhile, and that’s a thing of which you can be proud. And when your mind’s accomplishments lead you to money or wealth, there’s no need to prove anything. Go ahead and spend that money on what’s important to you and what you consider valuable. Enjoyment and fulfillment will flow from the fruits of your labor.

Rogers’ quote makes reference to spending money you haven’t earned. Sometimes this is the result of theft or mooching. But more often it consists of living beyond your means, most likely through credit card or similar debt. It’s not theft, but it is irrational. It can lead to fiscal bankruptcy resulting from the moral bankruptcy fueled by the same anxiety that forces us to spend compulsively. This is often evident with celebrities, particularly those who hit it big while quite young. Some handle it well. Others blow up in a very public way (much to the delight of celebrity sensation magazines and websites), with emotional breakdowns and all manner of theatrics. These people, thrust into the public eye at too young an age, simply can’t handle the anxiety. They suddenly have a lot of money, but they don’t have the self-respect to match it. As a result, they throw it around on range-of-the-moment activities that don’t make sense other than to make them feel like they’re acting the way they’re supposed to act.

Celebrities upon whom money is heaped have the option to indulge in drugs to whatever degree they wish. They can easily afford lawyers for the associated legal troubles. Of course, this notoriety – good, bad or indifferent – makes them different from the mainstream. But they’re really no different from anybody who lacks self-respect and must look a certain way in the eyes of others. Their anxiety level is high, and as a result they self-medicate to help them feel like they’re coping with the anxiety. But the coping’s only temporary.

Religionists, socialists and other puritanical mentalities sanctimoniously blame “materialism” for what is in fact an anxiety issue. When people decry materialism, they’re really decrying freedom and money because of their anxiety and lack of self-respect. But the fact that some people mismanage their freedom and money is no reason to blame money – other than to come off self-righteously smug and pious.

I like Rogers’ quote about pleasing people you don’t like. It’s true and I see it all the time: The less you respect yourself, the less you respect those that you (ironically enough) have chosen to be the objects of your admiration. There can be no true respect or admiration for someone that you yourself chose when you don’t feel respect or admiration for yourself.

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