22 Jul Financial Independence For All
This story happened over a decade ago, but it’s lessons transformed my life and redirected how I spend my most precious resource: my time. I was playing a simulation game with a dozen other people and here’s what happened.
An FI Game
I can’t find the instructions for the game anywhere on the internet, but it went something like this.
The organizer fills paper bags with varying amounts of Hersheys Kisses and Cracker Jacks sized plastic cows. Most people get 3 kisses. A few get 3 kisses and a cow. One gets 3 cows and a dozen kisses. These numbers are estimate, but in them you see the story of inequality in our economy. The kisses represent current income. The cows represent wealth (indeed, in some African countries they DO represent wealth. And income if you count the daily milking).
The third element is the bank. There you can buy a cow with a certain number of kisses or redeem a cow for kisses plus profit. Let’s say you redeem a cow at x+ profit (a kiss or two) and buy a cow for x. At the end of each round, the people with cows earned one-kiss interest from the bank. The organizer staffs the bank. The bank has cows and kisses in the vault i.e. the amount of money in play can increase.
The rules are:
The game has at least 7 rounds, maybe more, of 5-10 minutes each. At the end of each round, a player has to have at least one kiss (income to buy food) or they die/leave the game.
It’s rigged, of course, but there are several ways to survive.
The richest three people can just run through their kisses, enjoy their interest payments and if need be trade in a cow. They don’t have to sweat anything or even be aware of the struggles other players are having to survive.
The poorest have to find a source of kisses by round 4 or they die.
The game began. I could see the peasants hadn’t figured out until almost too late that they’d need to earn more kisses or die. But how? Some died and left their kisses to other poor people. Some begged and got an extra kiss or two from the wealthy. By round 4 they formed a collective, pooled their kisses and assured their meager surplus would keep everyone alive. By round five or so they became a rabble and began to demand kisses from the wealthy some of whom had soon adopted the superiority of the wealthy, getting tight fisted and entitled while a few had become benevolent in a limited way, giving a kiss to one of the poor crowd if their begging (fundraising) pleased them.
Here’s how I played. It was pure FI strategizing. I was a one kiss peasant. I sussed out the game and saw that the way to win is have a cow or two i.e. build wealth and earn passive income.
I went to a wealthy player and asked to borrow enough kisses to buy a cow, with a promise to repay by round 4. I didn’t beg or steal. I borrowed. This way, every round produced a kiss to keep me alive. And I could get my cow profit, so I could stay alive even longer. By round 5 I’d paid my debt, borrowed to buy another cow and realized I was set for life. I had a surplus of kisses and would always earn more as long as I had my cows.
I’d become FI at the level of cows and kisses and removed myself from the game to watch the dynamics from a safe distance.
As the peasants became a rabble, I realized I could keep my stash and income and watch them struggle and some die – or I could rejoin the game, give them my kisses and use my natural FI strategic thinking to help them win. I could actually feel the terror of surrendering my purchase on safety for helping those less fortunate. But I also saw the growing camaraderie and learning process of the peasants and felt like a lonely outsider. I saw I had started to think like a callow rich person. I saw my fear. I saw my loneliness.
Secure wealth keeps you inside a circle of safety, but it also keeps you from sincerely playing the game of life which is struggle, learning, sharing, victories and relationships.
I hesitated, calculated, checked my conscience and then turned in my cow for kisses, joined the rabble, fed everybody and shared my winning strategy.
I played this game about 30 years into my FI, and a few years after quitting my self-assigned job as the main public cheerleader for the 9-step program. In early FI I’d traveled, taken on an inner search for who I really am and what makes life worth living and homesteaded. In middle FI I’d begun a life of service which included helping others gain FI. But I and my team were apart from others and frankly feeling superior.
By the turn of the Millennium it was not a big enough game for me, not a soul-sized life, a life with risk and grit and joy and real purpose which always smacks of making the larger problems of the larger community your north star. When I traded my cows and kisses for participation in the wealth inequality of the game (the little role-play game and the big life game), my life became happier, more satisfying to myself and inspiring to others and more of what George Bernard Shaw calls the “true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.”
Financial Independence For All
I believe this is the promise for all of you on the FI path – that you dedicate your freedom to freeing others and perhaps even transforming the systems in which we live. This is what we call #FIforALL here on this platform for the 2018 Your Money or Your Life, and we invite you to play this game with us.#FIforALL isn’t a formula. It’s a process, a game worth playing. FIers are smart enough to get out of the work and spend and die in debt cycle. But are we wise enough to claim the “true joy in life” – to apply our clear thinking and strong wills to a bigger game than me and mine. Maybe not right away. Maybe right away we need to sleep and clean house and travel and learn a language or an instrument and finish raising our kids. But one day some of you – perhaps all of you – may turn in at least some of your time kisses for making the world better for everybody.