“Truly I believe that ill fortune is of more use to men than good fortune. For good fortune, when she wears the guise of happiness, and most seems to caress, is always lying; ill fortune is always truthful, since in changing, she shows her inconsistency. The one deceives, the other teaches; the one enchains the minds of those who enjoy her favor by the semblance of delusive good, the other delivers them by the knowledge of the frail nature of happiness. … Good fortune, by her allurement, draws men far from the true good; ill fortune often times draws men back to true good.” ~Boethius
Need for Greed
One way I can see that I am old is by looking at the changing attitudes I see around me. When I was young, people valued sharing and caring. We were our brother’s keepers. We helped our neighbors who were having difficulties. And when we had difficulties, they helped us.
Now most of us seem to have been convinced of just the opposite. We believe in helping others only if we think it will ultimately benefit us to do so. We share with others only if we want something from them. We worship greed and those who excel at it. We have even elected a greedy conman as President of the United States. Boethius knew better, as do most spiritual people.
The problems with wealth, or as Boethus says it: “good fortune,” are many. Let’s look at the fickle part of it. We are happy when we have plenty of money, plenty of food, a good home, and so on. But those things can all be taken away from us in a moment. A natural disaster can destroy it. A dreadful disease can make us so ill we spend it all seeking a cure we never find. A new government could take it all away from us. And most wealthy people, especially those born wealthy, have no ability to function in a world where they have to work like common folk.
Boethus says ill fortune is better in this matter because at least we know that such things are temporary. While some of us may always have some form of ill fortune, it is constantly changing. So you can safely say during the worse of it, that it will pass and be happy again.
The other problem with too much good fortune is that we become imprisoned by it. There is no need for us to do anything, no need to change, so we remain still like a frog on a lily pad. We become imprisoned by it just as if we really were in a gold cell. We may go to the finest college available, but feel no real need to learn anything new. We may attend lectures and seminars by the greatest speakers, who we hear but don’t really listen to. Rarely do such people ever go beyond physical pleasures to seek out the spiritual.
Those with what Boethus calls ill fortune are not in a golden jail cell. It is more like they are crossing a bridge that is on fire behind them. They know that they must keep moving forward or be caught by the fire. So they rarely rest, but keep moving all the time. And not just moving but also observing and learning. The look for a way off the bridge. They look for ways to put out the fire. They seek ways to protect themselves from the fire. They are constantly moving, constantly thinking, constantly learning.
The Spiritual Seeker
Because those who are frequently visited by ill fortune are constantly learning, they are the ones most likely to turn to seeking spiritual truth. Since the material world tends to be unfriendly to them (or so they think) , they will start looking elsewhere for happiness. The man in the golden cage will rarely look beyond it, except at a larger cell.
People like St. Francis of Assisi and Nostradamus are good examples of this. St. Francis was sent off to fight in a war and returned home with what we now call PTSD. While laying in his bed recovering, he had a spiritual awakening while watching a sunrise. Nostradamus say his family and friends died from the Plague, causing him to look beyond the physical for solace. There are exceptions, of course. Occasionally a wealthy person with no apparent problems will awaken to the need for spiritual development, but not often.
So maybe what Boethus calls ill fortune is the real good fortune, for it helps us grow, and helps us learn. Most of all, it can get us to turn away from material pleasures and seek out the spiritual.