A while back an acquaintance mentioned in passing that she regularly attends seminars and workshops designed to help people create wealth. Because I know this woman as a highly spiritual person -- not religious, but spiritual -- my knee-jerk reaction was to ask her, "Why would you want to create wealth?" That goal didn't square with what I knew of her. I didn't ask the question out loud. It probably would have sounded judgmental, but it wasn't. I was genuinely curious about why she would want to focus so much time, attention, and money on "creating wealth" -- a phrase that sounds so, I don't know, stark or chilling, in contrast to "making a living" or "earning money."
Over the following days I wondered if once again I'm the only one who thinks this way. And then yesterday I stumbled on a story on nytimes.com that warmed the very cockles of my heart and gave me reason to hope for the human race once again. "Craigslist Meets the Capitalists" reported that CEO Jim Buckmaster had a devil of a time explaining to a group of hardcore capitalists why Craigslist isn't all that interested in "monetizing" its company. One observer called it a "culture clash of near-epic proportions." I would think so. One analyst said of the meeting: "I think a lot of people are catching their breath right now." I'm one of them, but not because I don't get it. It's because I do get it -- and because now I have a new hero, or group of heroes, the people behind Craigslist.
Craigslist has the distinction of being one of the first websites I ever visited, way back in the mid 1990s. It posts job openings and apartment listings and the like in a number of metro areas. The site charges a modest fee for listings but refuses to accept advertising; it's more interested in serving its clientele than "maximizing profits."
I'm not against maximizing profits, or at least I don't think I am; I wouldn't mind maximizing a few of my own. That's not my point. And I'm not criticizing my acquaintance for wanting to create wealth. I just have this whole other way of looking at the relationship between life and money. My perspective is much closer to the Craigslist philosophy. Buckmaster told the group that maximizing profits simply was not a part of the company's goal; creating wealth is not one of my goals either.
If wealth happens, it happens, but neither Craigslist nor I will go chasing after it. A near-epic culture clash indeed.