If you haven’t read the book Silas Marner by George Eliot, check it out. It’s a good Summer read.
The title character is well known for sitting alone in his house, with the windows shuttered, and counting his gold. Night after night Silas Marner counted his gold.
When we read that part of the book, our mind naturally thinks about an old man hunched over his table, counting his money night after night. In fact, Silas doesn’t know that he has many years ahead of him.
As with any good novel, the book has intrigue, crime, emotions run amok, love, and redemption. Silas will lose his fortune, but have his soul reborn due to the love of an abandoned child.
When we employ the imagery of Silas Marner, it’s of someone who has become obsessed with counting their gold. They define success as wealth. And so they isolate themselves from others, afraid of getting too close, concerned that everyone is after their share of the money.
Unfortunately, we have modern equivalents to Silas in the business world today.
Some people, as they become successful in business, also become so obsessed with this distorted view of “wealth” that they close themselves off from their family, their friends, and (in the business world) their clients and employees. They look at their accomplishments and somehow conclude that they got their on their own.
When this happens, they begin to act as if they’re at the end of the story. That there’s nothing left to do but count their gold. But unless they’re on their deathbed, it’s not the end. If you achieve financial success at middle age, you have many years, and many adventures ahead.
In the real world, these folks begin alienating those who would be their friends. They treat every relationship and every interaction as if it were about money. Sometimes business is about money. But when business is only about money, it is very dissatisfying.
I’ve known people who became “successful” in this regard and who changed from being fun to being bitter and alienated. Their children don’t want to spend time with them; their employees can’t stand them and have zero loyalty; and their clients and vendors just seem to go somewhere else one at a time.
In the novel, Silas learns his lessons, re-joins the community, raises a child, and learns that love and human society are more important than gold. In the “real world” I’m afraid that doesn’t happen so much. In the real world, people tend to reinforce their view of the world as they interpret each new experience as reinforcing their old beliefs.
So, what can we do? First, we can try very hard not to let ourselves become like Silas. Success does not equal money. Money is not the measure of success.
Second, we can be a true friend and tell people when they’re heading down this road. That also means sticking in there when they go through a Silas Marner period in their lives. This is tougher than it sounds. Because that period can leave our friend very bitter and unpleasant to be around. We have to be careful not to get sucked into this view of the world.
Third, we can choose to back off. This is hard to do. And it doesn’t sound like being a friend, but if it’s clear that we can’t help, it is sometimes best to isolate ourselves from the negativity.
True success means finding the things that bring meaning and value into your life. It is highly unlikely that that will include surrounding yourself with bitter, angry people, or a pot of gold.
So, finally, the best you can do is to pray for your friend. Whatever other action you take, that’s the one thing that will do some good. And, with luck, they’ll learn to focus on the more positive things in life.
Over the years, in my business life, I’ve dropped a couple of Silas Marner clients. In the business world I can simply choose not to do business with them.
It’s harder when a friend goes down that road.