Do you remember the greater than (>) and less than (<) symbols from your childhood math class?  You may have been taught, the same way I was, to imagine that the symbols represented an alligator’s mouth opening and he was always going for the larger amount.  If you weren’t taught that, and this is the first time you have heard this… you’re welcome.

The reason I bring this up is that in this very divisive time we are living in, the equation at the top of this page (which serves as its’ title) is the equation that I have been thinking about.  I think it would make a great t-shirt or bumper sticker but maybe I am the only one.  It is a reminder to all of us that what should be valued above all else are the most meaningful relationships we have.

I have learned throughout my life and have found that when the situations are the most difficult, it is these relationships in my life which continue to lift me up and support me.  I am reminded of the definition of “True Wealth” which is, all that you have that money cannot buy and death cannot take away.  Think about that for a bit.  It is not how many zeros there are at the end of your net worth statement which accounts for true wealth; that’s monetary wealth.  This is in many ways how those without relationships keep score, but that is a topic for a different blog.

I know this from my own experience and from working with people and their money for over thirty years.  Even the most affluent people I work with place a higher priority on important relationships in their lives over their personal wealth.  I am fortunate to work with so many people who are as interested in true wealth as they are in monetary wealth.

During a time when there are so many divisive concerns to address, it is natural to assume that relationships will be tested, and arguments will ensue.  I suspect that over the next several months opinions will reach a fever pitch as we move through a volatile time in history.  I believe these times will come and go, but it is more important to value the relationships we have with each other over our positions.  They are not mutually exclusive, or at least they shouldn’t be.

This reminds me of the quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”  This quote has been ruminating around in my head for the last several years.  It seems that either we are no longer “first rate intelligent” or we choose to live in an echo chamber surrounded by people who support our views, shunning those who do not follow in lock step.

As you probably already know by now, I have no shortage of great ideas, I mean some of them are truly brilliant.  But as great as my ideas are, the relationships in my life are far more brilliant.  I will hold and treasure them forever.  In fact, come to think of it, some of my views on certain topics have changed and evolved over time.  I attribute this to growth, wisdom, and maturity.  Regardless of the evolution of thought, my relationships have remained constant throughout.

Lest I give the impression that I have only acquired new friendships and new relationships, that is not quite true. Some of my best friends have completely opposite views from me… on just about every position or on each political candidate.  These relationships are based on a mutual respect and understanding. I admire and respect their views even though I may not agree with them.  I see them as a whole person and not just an opinion. After all, it is their friendship that I value, and friendship to me is not based on a complete alignment of our thinking.  It is often due to surrounding myself with people that have different views, that I have allowed my own views to evolve and change over time.

The issues of the day will come and go.  What was important two years ago, is much less important today.  What is critically important today, will not likely be the same thing that is most important in three years.  You can call me out on that in 2023 if I am wrong.  In the meantime, I will keep investing in the healthy relationships that I have been blessed to have and I hope to be a better person for it.  Back to the alligator, it is those relationships which are the larger portion that I will turn and face because they are what are worthy and lasting.

(previous blog on kindness by Brian Ursu Ellen, George, and Kindness)