What does it mean to own something?
The truth is that we the human race are obsessed with owning things from little things in our childhood such as a toy, to cars and houses as adults.
Yet the sad truth is that there is very little difference between a child who does not wish to share his toys with other children, to that of very wealthy men or women who wish to take all their wealth to the grave with them. As the expression goes “Once the mould has been set……” Around this time of year, other illustrious characters spring to mind like the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge by Charles Dickens, hence the description “to be a Scrooge”.
In much further reaching scenarios, some people even own villages, cities and countries. It gives human beings immense pride to speak of the things they possess, as if by mear possession, their material possessions immediately vindicated them of any crime and showed them in a more positive light.
After all everybody admires a lifetime dedicated to becoming extremely rich, yet a much smaller portion of society admire people such as nurses who have dedicated their lives to looking after the sick or even street sweepers who keep our cities clean, after all….where is the glamour in that?
I have often reflected on the nature of such questions, and always questioned my own desire for material objects, be they what they may.
I have read many books and watched many films on such issues, yet as is often the case for me, my favourite book always seems to put the point across with the greatest conviction and simplicity.
The following is an extract from “The Little Prince” by Saint-Antoine de Exupery on the nature of materialism:
The Little Prince: “And what good does it do you to own the stars?”
The accountant: “It does me the good of making me rich.”
The Little Prince: “And what good does it do you to be rich?”
The accountant: “It makes it possible for me to buy more stars, if any are discovered.”
The Little Prince: “This man,” the little prince said to himself, “reasons a little like my poor tippler . . .”
Nevertheless, he still had some more questions.
The Little Prince: “How is it possible for one to own the stars?”
The accountant: “To whom do they belong?” the accountant retorted, peevishly.
The Little Prince: “I don’t know. To nobody.”
The accountant: “Then they belong to me, because I was the first person to think of it.”
The Little Prince: “Is that all that is necessary?”
The accountant: “Certainly. When you find a diamond that belongs to nobody, it is yours. When you discover an island that belongs to nobody, it is yours. When you get an idea before any one else, you take out a patent on it: it is yours. So with me: I own the stars, because nobody else before me ever thought of owning them.”
The Little Prince: “Yes, that is true,” said the little prince. “And what do you do with them?”
The accountant: “I administer them,” replied the accountant. “I count them and recount them. It is difficult. But I am a man who is naturally interested in matters of consequence.”
The little prince was still not satisfied.
The Little Prince: “If I owned a silk scarf,” he said, “I could put it around my neck and take it away with me. If I owned a flower, I could pluck that flower and take it away with me. But you cannot pluck the stars from heaven . . .”
The accountant: “No. But I can put them in the bank.”
The Little Prince: “Whatever does that mean?”
The accountant: “That means that I write the number of my stars on a little paper. And then I put this paper in a drawer and lock it with a key.”
The Little Prince: “And that is all?”
The accountant: “That is enough,”
The Little Prince: “It is entertaining,” thought the little prince. “It is rather poetic. But it is of no great consequence.”
On matters of consequence, the little prince had ideas which were very different from those of the grown-ups.
The Little Prince: “I myself own a flower,” he continued his conversation with the accountant, “which I water every day. I own three volcanoes, which I clean out every week, for I also clean out the one that is extinct; one never knows. It is of some use to my volcanoes, and it is of some use to my flower, that I own them. But you are of no use to the stars . . .”
The accountant opened his mouth, but he found nothing to say in answer. And the little prince went away.