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Tangible vs Intangible

Katherine Han

I grew up in a financially stable town. Most of the families living there are middle-class: not extremely rich, but have enough money to live a comfortable life. Since, most of these families walked the line between an upper-class and middle-class family, a lot of the people would buy lots of material goods to try project themselves as upper-class people. I always thought that owning an excessive amount of things could make someone miserable. And, as I traveled more often and experienced more, I found moments both where owning material goods helped someone, and didn’t help someone. Placing your focus on owning material goods can be detrimental to a person’s character, but sometimes material goods can be useful in developing a person’s character. Ownership of things also extend to owning intangible things.

Sometimes, placing your focus on obtaining material goods can make you miserable. It can be very toxic to only care about material goods. With the constantly growing pressures that we feel from society, some people can get too easily wrapped up in the idea of social hierarchy based on wealth in objects. The story of the Golden Touch is a classic example of being too focused on material wealth. The king wished that everything he touched would turn into gold. Unfortunately, he hugged his daughter and turned her into gold as well. This is symbolic of how the king’s desire for wealth caused him to lose his family. I have a neighbor, who is a very close family friend, a very generous person, and an amazing teacher. However, she can often get very tied up in material wealth. If my family ever went on vacation, we have to bring her back a gift or she could get extremely jealous of our adventures. This was both shocking and sad for me to see. Her family is financially stable, like mine, and yet she was trying so hard to make herself appear upper-class. It made her visibly miserable, and was also detrimental to our friendship.

Although material wealth can often be very detrimental to a person’s character, sometimes material wealth is necessary for a person’s development. For the past two years, I have traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal to help paint the walls of select schools. Going to Nepal has given me a whole new perspective of our world. Most of the people in Nepal follow Hinduism, Buddhism, or some kind of mix of the two. So, a lot of the people there reject material wealth and strive to live a free life. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need anything at all. Being a third world country, Nepal has extremely underdeveloped roads and buildings. Their schools are incredibly run-down, and sometimes you can’t even recognize that it’s a school. Every year that the volunteer group and I go to help, we bring with us extra money for donation. Two years ago, we bought the school a bunch of sports equipment and toys. Last year, we brought them new pencils, pens, and notebooks. I had never seen those kids so happy, and those teachers so grateful. It was pouring rain the day that we passed out the materials, but the kids still ran around outside to play with their new toys. And, when we gave them the notebooks, one little girl hugged it to her chest. The notebooks were really standard and basic supplies, but to the students, who have so little, the notebooks were everything. Those books would help them further their education, and those toys could help them develop a love for sports or help develop new friendships.

Another thing I got from Nepal were the experiences. By giving up my time to help these kids, I received intangible gifts in return. A feeling of gratification, joy, a new perspective on our world, and a new appreciation for all that we have. These are all intangible things, but owning them have made me feel wealthier than ever. There is no rubric out there that states we can only own tangible objects. In fact, owning skills, experiences, and feelings can be even more rewarding than owning tangible objects. In order to own material goods, one must have worked really hard to purchase those goods. It’s almost the same idea with intangible things. They are all results of our successes in life.

About Michelle Hua

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