Page 11, 31st October 2008

31st October 2008
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Page 11, 31st October 2008 — Swapping the pin-stripe for the habit
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Swapping the pin-stripe for the habit

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Nick Thomas

Most Friday e venirtgs my wife and I get a visit from an old friend of mine, a chap in his early 30s who left the low rent end of journalism some years ago to chase big bucks in the corporate world. He's very bright, and he's done pretty well; but the last time he came to see us, just before he went away for a break, he arrived with the face of an astronaut pulling Gs during lift-off, and a bottle that was considerably cheaper than his usual choice.

The FTSE had tumbled that day, and his collection (though I don't think that's the technical term) of shares, principally in the company for which he works, was worth a tenth of its value a year ago. He felt, he said, "poor". The markets have taken a few more tumbles since then, so I'm not expecting him to be in a particularly sunny mood when he next pops round.

On the night in question, though, I did my best to cheer him up. I pointed out that he hadn't lost his job, and lives comfortably within his means — as he jolly well should, as a bachelor who earns more than £90,000 a year (or "just south of 100k", as he would put it), and that since he had had no plans to sell his stock he just had to hang on to it. His net worth on paper might have shrivelled for the moment, but his income and outgoings remained as they were. So why worry?

I was not, by the way, jeering, or enjoying his discomfiture. Neither did I preach at him about the many people who are now concerned about the home in which they hoped to enjoy their retirement, or the legacy they want to leave their children, both accrued through hard work and prudence, and now at risk as a result of other people's folly and incompetence, let alone all the real, not relative, poverty that exists in the world. He knows all that, and I would only have entrenched his subjectivity by banging on like some Blue Peter presenter starting an appeal. I knew that these reflections would follow naturally from lightening his mood, and making him realise that he himself was still rather well-off, and in a position to look outward.

For the truth is that we all worry about our income, and if it derives from the world of big business we can easily become unhealthily focused on the giant computer game on which it depends, as well as the terrifying ignorance of those who play it and of our elected masters. Also, there is no sin in bright, hard-working people entering that world for gain: most of them do it to justify and reward their parents' efforts on their behalf, and anyway it would be a terrible world in which intelligence and industry could not, by law, attract material reward. The question is whether you want that reward, and if so, for what reason, and for how long.

As it happens, Mr Friday Night longs to channel his efforts into supporting a family, but has yet to meet the right girl. But we have another friend of about the same age, who did the same thing and also talked in MBA patois as a result, and we haven't seen much of him for the last year, since he began his novitiate (the flash City life doesn't necessarily rot the soul, just the conversation). This one showed every sign of loving the high-pressure job, the smart suits and cocktails, and then one day artrotanced that he had been accepted into a religious horse= . And this, mind you, woe before any hint of a downturn (for orders rightly loot askance at applicants wha merely wish to run away); he was riding high, buthaad quietly become convinced in his vocation.

rTha. religious life is not for everyone, and it would be pre)oterous to suggest that all ehm workers in the extended City beehive should swap the pin-stripe two-piece fora monk's habit. But this conp.rison between two friend-s reminds me of why we value those who have remuanced worldly striving for de votion and missioa; not just bc ause they are closer to God than we can find the tirra aend space for, not just beau se their prayers are purr, on our behalf, than we have the strength to manage for D11.z rselves, but because they give us by their example especially in rough thus, a sense of perspective.

Pasorr Iuventus returns next n..-"eek




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