Guideposts on the Footpath to Peace
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
The Seminole nation was forged in the 1700s, when Native Americans from Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi joined up with the Creek Nation and African Americans who had escaped from slavery.
Unwilling to give up their land or way of life, the Seminole tribe fought a series of wars against the federal government in which more than 1,500 U.S. soldiers died. Eventually, the Seminoles won.
They still refer to themselves as America's "only unconquered Indian tribe," overcoming inhospitable wetlands, poverty, racism and the military might of the U.S. government to gain independence and sovereignty.
Yes, Florida's Seminole Indian tribe has a proud history. But the present is another story.
Due to the success of its casino operations, the Seminoles have grown exceedingly wealthy, spending $965 million last year to purchase the Hard Rock International chain.
Each of the tribe's more than 3,300 members now gets free health care and college tuition - and everyone from infants to seniors receives monthly dividend checks that total more than $120,000 a year.
At first blush, it sounds like an incredible stroke of good fortune. But according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Seminole officials are concerned about "the alarming high-school dropout rate, drug and alcohol abuse, free-spending ways that can lead to unmanageable personal debt, and an erosion of the work ethic."
Former Tribal Chairman Howard Tommie says most families now have five or six cars, alongside airboats, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and vacation homes. Yet the tribe is also dealing with an upsurge of young people killed in accidents and by drug overdoses. Many remain unemployed.
"The challenge for me and 90 percent of the tribe is motivation," says Louise Gopher, the Seminoles' education director. "Young people say, 'with so much money, why do I have to go to work, go to school.' It's like we've developed this monster. Now we have to deal with it."
Call it the downside of the dream. Millions of Americans long for sudden wealth. Many hope and pray for it.
But it wouldn't hurt to read John Steinbeck's novel "The Pearl" first.
An unexpected monetary windfall can alter your life in ways you might not imagine. Some people change their priorities or make bad decisions. Others lose sight of their long-held values. Still others discover they have attracted the wrong sort of people, whom they mistakenly call friends.
Last year I played poker one evening with a money manager who handles the account of some lucky fellow who won the Florida State Lotto.
"He only won the jackpot eight years ago," he told us. "But most of it is already gone. The rest won't take long at the rate he's going through it. And his life is a mess," he said shaking his head. "You wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy."
The problem isn't just sudden, unexpected wealth, like an inheritance or lottery win, coming to folks who aren't prepared for it. People who follow excellent, long-term habits of industry can also lose sight of what's important.
As B.C. Forbes wrote in his magazine in 1917, "Too many so-called 'successful' men are making business an end and aim in itself. They regard the multiplying of their millions and the extension of their works as the be-all and end-all of life. Such men are sometimes happy in a feverish, hustling sort of way, much as a fly placed in a tube of oxygen is furiously happy until its life burns out. But they have no time for the tranquil, finer, deeper joys of living. They are so obsessed with the material that they cannot enjoy the immaterial, the tangible, the ideal, the spiritual - quiet thought, self-communion, reflection, poise, inward happiness, domestic felicity. What profiteth it a man to gain uncounted riches if he thereby sacrifices his better self, his nobler qualities of manhood? Mere getting is not living."
I'm not a moon-eyed idealist who believes that money doesn't matter. It does.
It can determine the kind of neighborhood you live in, the type of education your kids receive, the quality of your health care, and your ability to make important choices in your life. In many ways, the quest for financial independence is a noble undertaking.
But an individual who is driven by his lust for "more" is hardly different than the donkey who is propelled onward by a carrot dangling at the end of a stick.
The secret is balance. Pursue your financial ambitions. But take time, too, to appreciate your health, your family, your friends and the extraordinary world around you.
As clergyman Henry van Dyke wrote nearly 100 years ago, "To be glad of life, because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars; to be satisfied with your possessions, but not contented with yourself until you have made the best of them; to despise nothing in the world except falsehood and meanness, and to fear nothing except cowardice; to be governed by your admirations rather than by your disgusts; to covet nothing that is your neighbor's except his kindness of heart and gentleness of manners; to think seldom of your enemies and often of your friends... these are little guideposts on the footpath to peace."
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Alexander Green is the Investment Director of The Oxford Club and Chairman of Investment U, a free, internet-based research service with over 300,000 readers. (The Oxford Club's Communique, whose portfolio he directs, is ranked third in the nation for risk-adjusted returns over the past five years by the independent Hulbert Financial Digest.) Alex has been featured on "The O'Reilly Factor," and has been profiled by Forbes, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, CNBC, and Marketwatch.com, among others. He lives in central Florida with his wife Karen and their children Hannah and David.
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