• Stephen Scheidell

Self-made Fortune and the Gift of Language

Entrepreneurs the world over capitalize on talk of a self-made fortune, much of which was won by selling courses on how you too can create self-made wealth (with the help of this $499 course, of course).


I myself am not so much a fan of this bit of "Entreprenglish"—the peculiar language spoken by otherwise unemployed individuals who want to be seen as wildly successful. And there are a few reasons motivating my disdain for that language, but I'll only focus on one for the moment: namely, the myth of being "self-made," particularly in relation to language. "What do you have that you did not receive?" is among my favorite lines in all of Sacred Literature. The question requires one and only one honest answer: nothing. As much as folks want to sell—for a new discount price while supplies last—that "self-made" story, there's something dishonest about it. Did you self-make the currency? Did you self-make the economic models and legal protections within which that currency was accumulated into the bank account that, I'm guessing, you didn't self-make?


Now, I am not at all detracting from those who worked hard to be where they are. Rather, I'm merely suggesting that hard work be accompanied by a sense of gratitude for all that has been given, including the means and tools with which one works.


And I particularly want to highlight that language is a gift. As infants we all came into a bewildering world full of giants bellowing strange sounds to each other and also to us but at a strangely higher pitch and slower pace. As toddlers we became accustomed to mimicking these odd sounds in order to more effectively coerce these large beings into complying with our demands, under threat of loud screaming and crying. As children we began genuinely sharing the world around us with adults and other kids.


As adults we can look back and understand that adults in our early childhood catered to us in order to give us the know-how of language. They slowed down. They used small words rather than overabundantly loquacious obfuscations.


In this way, language is a gift. And to give us language was to give us a world beyond what we immediately see and hear. It's to give us a way of cohabitating the world with people beyond those we immediately see and hear. Westeros was shared with us, Narnia was shared with us, Diagon Alley and Hogwarts were shared with us.


And I don't mean only that fictional worlds are given by language. Human history would lost without written records and documents (and I don't mean the politicians' telling of "history"—which is usually no less fictional than Narnia). The beauties of artists and insights of thinkers beyond one's immediately surrounding would go unknown. In this sense, it can be said that our own world was given to us through language.


It seems to me that the self-made story needs to be retold in expressions of gratitude. In fact, perhaps, any story that can be told needs to be retold in expressions of gratitude.



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