Dov Charney once attempted to buy a car.
I don’t even remember what sort of car it was exactly, but I don’t even believe it was an especially fancy individual–a Hyundai or something like that. And there were some strings, he’d purchase it, and at some indefinite point in the future I’d need to consider the payments.
As I said, I don’t remember the specific specifics, but I remember my response: “This’s quite generous of you. I appreciate it, but no, thank you. I’m OK. ”
It wasn’t just that I was perfectly happy driving a 1997 Volvo with 160,000 miles on it. It was that I have an aversion to debts and entanglements, and yet well-meaning the deal was, an entanglement was certainly a part of their intention.
In his biography of Lyndon Johnson, Robert Caro tells the story of Johnson attempting to recruit a guy named John Hicks to work for him. In a meeting at a diner at Austin, Johnson made his pitch: “I’m likely to give you ten million dollars,” he said, “And I would like you to take it and buy yourself a Cadillac car. And I would like you to move to a better flat. I would like you to be someone. Furnish the flat. Get [your wife] a fur coat. I would like you to [join some local clubs] and be someone here in Austin. ”
Hicks was surprised. How would I ever pay you back, ” he asked Johnson. Johnson simply smiled and said, “Johnny, don’t even fret about that. You let me worry about that. ”
Certainly offers in this way are champagne problems. Many people are struggling to get noticed, to find an opportunity in any way. To have the ability to turn down a gift or a job offer is a privilege. The majority of us would kill to get a future president provide us a car, and a lot of men and women need a car, period. Still, this privileged place is not without its perils.
It’s a dangerous game which goes back farther than Lyndon Johnson offering a guy a Cadillac. Seneca, that the Roman statesman and author, spoke often about wealthy Romans who’ve spent themselves into debt and the distress and dependence this generated for them. He said, often lurks beneath gold and marble. Yet, his own life was defined by these specific debts. Together with his own luck, he made large loans to a colony of Britain at speeds so high it eventually destroyed their economy. And what is the source of the fortune? The Emperor Nero was manipulatively generous with Seneca, bestowing upon him numerous estates and financial awards in exchange for his advice and service. Seneca probably could have said, but once he accepted the initial one, the pins were still in. Since Nero grew increasingly unstable and deranged, Seneca tried to escape retirement but he couldn’t. He pushed all the wealth into a pile and offered to give back it with no chance.
Finally, death–a pressured suicide–was the only option. Money inout blood.
This is only a slightly more striking case of this trap we locate ourselves in. We take out student loans to cover an education that will get us a job we hope will make those devastating payments worth it. We go to the bank and ask them how much home theyrsquo;ll let’s purchase and then we hope two people working daily for the next forty years will prove them right.
We all frequently say yes unthinkingly, or outside of vague fascination, or out of vanity or greed. Because we can’t say no–because we could miss out on something if we did. We think “yes” will let us achieve more, will give us more of what we want, when in fact it prevents exactly that which we seek. We all waste precious life doing things we don’t enjoy, to prove ourselves to people we don’t esteem, and to get things we don’t want.
I read a post a few weeks back about a law firm in Houston that pays to get a private jet for its associates to fly back and forth to California. It was introduced as a perk of this project: Home prices in San Francisco are exorbitant, so this way the workers can enjoy living in Texas while still benefiting from the brisk technology marketplace in California. This isn’t even a perk. It’s a bribe, as Upton Sinclair put it. It’therefore the normalization of an utterly unnatural status quo–one which to sustain, the associates must work incredibly long hours at a remarkably unpleasant job. But when the pins are? It’s difficult to get them out.
The reason we work so difficult is to get “financial freedom. ” nonetheless we always seem to end up awfully unfree, don’t we all? David “DHH” Heinemeier Hansson has spoke about that the delusion of “Fuck You Money” (having so much you can say, “Fuck you” to folks asking you to do things you don’t want to perform). How many fuck yous are we hearing from such folks, he inquires. The fact is: Few. That’s the snare.
The irony of that provide from Dov, I understood, was that he might be giving me a car but a part of the reason was to make sure I wouldn’t move anywhere. Stuck with the payments, thankful for the gift, how can I question things? How can I pursue the life I desired? The response was that I wouldn’t even be able to. And I saw that happen. Other men and women who hadn’t been able to say–for private reasons, for financial reasons, because they didn’t see the strings–to either automobiles or green cards or apartments or places of power have been stuck when the company began to fall apart. As things spun out of control, and lines–moral and otherwise–were crossed, they were complicit. They were blinded, too, to what they were doing.
The early philosophers understood and cautioned against this. As Epicurus put it, “Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all wealth. ” The Stoic philosopher Epictetus has said that “wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. ” There is also a narrative about Socrates. He turned down an invitation from Archelaus, the king of Macedon, because he wished toldquo;avert dying a thousand deaths. ” Due to him accepting a favor he couldn’t pay back, that generated dependency, was worse than death. It was compromising his freedom. It was slavery.
We intuitively grasp the difficulty of Socrates’ position because one of the hardest things to do in life would be to say “no. ” To invitations, to asks, to duties, to gifts, as well as the things that everyone else is doing. Saying yes is so easy…and it feels so great.
Even tougher is saying no to obvious impositions: getting trapped in the condition of the job, normalizing yourself at a specific level, the drama, the rush. Why are so many bands from the 70s and 80s still on the road? It’s not only the cash, it’s that they need the adulation of the audience. They can’t even return to everyday life. Neither can most of us after we’ve tasted the forbidden fruits of power or fame or being required.
Freedom is the main thing. We’re born with it, and yet a lot of us wake up one day surprised at the chains we use. The reason? Because we mentioned here too many times and never learned how to say.
Just a free person has the ability to decline. Maintaining this power is indispensable.
It’s the difference between a life of subservience and a life of your life, as Lady Bird Johnson, LBJ’s wife understood and often fought. Since Robert Caro wrote, she came to visit John Hicks after he had politely refused her husband’so provide, to let him understand she respected, even admired his choice. Because she “had seen other men and women take their ten million dollars and had seen what happened to them. ” But Hicks had escaped, as Socrates had escaped, as the brilliant photographer Bill Cunningham escaped and basically all of the men and women who’ve done truly fantastic work have escaped.
Because if you can’t say, you’re not powerful or free. You’re a slave.
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