What is Enough?

As I read accounts of overleveraged banks, executive “bonuses”, people losing homes they couldn’t afford, the rising unemployment rate, some people working two jobs to make ends meet (barely) while others count their houses, I hope that the benefit of all this suffering and uneven distribution of wealth and pain is a national recalibration of our moral compass.

I find myself asking, “What is enough?” How big do our houses need to be? How many (extra) rooms? How big a yard? How many pairs of shoes? Of course, my home is modest, my income could be more, and so on. When do I/we move from covering necessity, to comfort, to excess? The markers are so much easier to see in the examples of others who have so much more or less than me. But to look at my own material existence and question whether and how I have contributed to the current situation is a different matter.

There are big institutional players that have acted egregiously. No question. They should be reined in, at a minimum. That is not what this musing is about. Rather, I suspect that they are the un-managed and enlarged shadow of our individual and collective attraction to success and comfort. Somewhere along the line, we forgot to ask what we owe each other. If I take more than my share, someone will suffer. The nature of their suffering can be unknown if I choose, but I haven’t lessened my responsibility.

Buddhists speak of karma and right action. I understand this to mean an internalized understanding of our connection to one another and to the commons we share—whether nature, health care, wealth, or living space. What we do matters, whether the action is miniscule or large. Imbalances accumulate and the community suffers. Care and responsibility also accumulate. I’d rather have the karma that accrues from our collective care for each other.