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Monday, May 25, 2020
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More Wisdom from Wayne Willis

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Wayne Willis

“Pigs get fat, 
hogs get slaughtered.” 


An economics professor uses this saying to teach his students a life lesson.  

The words have several layers of meaning. The most obvious is that there’s nothing wrong with wanting more and providing well for our families, so long as that drive doesn’t lead to “cooking the books,” insider trading, pyramid schemes or other illegal activities. That can land you in prison, provided you get caught.  

Another meaning goes one layer deeper than the fear of getting caught. “Getting fat”—making a good income, acquiring many things, having the accoutrements of success—doesn’t bring personal contentment. The good life, in our day, Edwin Searcy writes, has become a matter of “securing the bottom line, building up a good portfolio, bolting the door against trouble and playing your part as a consumer.”   We know people who have done all that but lead lives of quiet desperation.  

There’s another interpretation. Maybe the good life is neither about getting fat nor about getting slaughtered. Maybe it’s more about relationships. I like the way Alexander Solzhenitsyn, great Russian historian, novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner who spent almost a dozen years in and out of labor camps and in exile because he spoke out against Joseph Stalin, phrased it: "Own what you can always carry with you; know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your bag." 

“Own what you can always carry with you.” Solzhenitsyn doesn’t mean what we can carry in a wallet or backpack or U-Haul. He means the bag of memories we’ve made and always carry in our hearts and minds. When we get swindled out of our life savings or sentenced to a concentration camp or diagnosed with terminal cancer, that bag of memories may be the one thing no one and no thing can take from us.