More Than Money
Issue #27

Lifestyles of the Rich and Simple

Table of Contents

“Starting a New Legacy”

MY FATHER AND UNCLE were the founders and owners of Baskin-Robbins, which became the largest ice cream retailer in the world. As the only son, I was expected to follow in my father's footsteps. I was groomed for it, working in the factory, the office, in merchandising, even inventing ice cream flavors. I loved it. I ate more ice cream than any kid could ever hope to eat. We even had an ice cream coneshaped swimming pool at home.

I wasn't very healthy, though, and neither was most of my family. My uncle died of a heart attack and my father developed serious diabetes and high blood pressure. All of those correlate medically with a lot of cholesterol, fat, and sugar in the diet, which, of course, ice cream has.

I had grown up in a value system that was oriented around making money and I felt the emptiness of that, and of the environmental destruction that would ensue if we continued with the kind of consumption such a value system fostered. I also didn't want my work to be undermining health; I wanted to contribute to the well being of people's lives and hearts and souls. So when I was 21, I decided not to accept my father's generous offer to take over the business with him. I didn't want any of his money; I didn't want to depend on his achievements and his fortune. I wanted to have my own values. So I chose to be true to myself.

I walked away from an enormous amount of money (it was a billion dollar company at the time) and then lived a polar opposite life. My wife and I lived on less than $1,000 a year in a oneroom log cabin on an island off British Columbia. We grew our own food, did yoga, meditated. We attuned our lives to the deeper rhythms of the planet, and tried to find that place where our joy and the world's needs meet.

We found we were much happier living simply. We had more time with each other and our son; our creativity blossomed; we were able to follow the call of our own inner voice with less encumbrance. It was a huge pendulum swing away from the way I had grown up.

Now I'm older, I have grandchildren, my books have been successful, and I have some money and security. I am not a fan of poverty, but I am a big fan of clarity.

I still live fairly simply. I own some land with a little house on it, a big orchard, and a garden. We use solargenerated power and we do a lot of things to simplify our lives. For example, we live with my son, his wife, and their two children. We share two cars among us, minimizing the mileage we put on them. We make an effort not to drive unnecessarily, because it's polluting, it's expensive, and it's a drag. I would rather spend time singing, dancing, and working in the garden than driving on asphalt highways. I choose to spend as much time with my family as I can and not get lost in doing things just for money.

Those of us with money are in a unique situation because we have choices that others may not have. How we make those choices defines us as people and determines the nature of our impact on our environment. Our responsibility in this area and our ability to impact the future are greatly multiplied by the resources we have. This greater responsibility is a privilege, not something to feel guilty about. We have the opportunity to use our resources to further the things we believe in and that are in alignment with our dreams for the world.

Early on, I saw that the people who are truly rich are those who are in touch with their spirits. Seeing this, I made life choices that would allow me to express my spirit and values. Living in a sick culture, you have to work to know what you're really hungry for, what you crave, what your urges are, and what feeds you. When you do that work, you start with small steps. Eventually, you're running, leaping, dancing, flying.

-Based on an interview with Pamela Gerloff


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