Successful Lives: An All Souls Reflection

Well it’s All Souls Day and I’ve been reflecting on the lives of some of the people I’ve known.  I have an acquaintance, not a friend, just someone I’ve known for many years.  He’s been cited here and there as among those who is compensated several millions of dollars a year, and is respectfully feared in some circles as a powerful personage not to be crossed.  Being somewhat familiar with his career, I’ve been thinking about what he has done to contribute to the well being of society, and, on the whole, it seems to me to be about the same a the leader of a city street gang.
Think about it.  One person achieves high standing in business and society while the other is targeted for life imprisonment.  Both are respected, even feared, in their circles of influence.  Both do what they can to manipulate the environment around them to maximize return on investment for themselves and their clients regardless of what it does to the rest of the neighborhood.  One would probably murder, and has no problem causing physical pain.  The other would probably not, but enjoys making money through organizations that benefit from policies protecting them from liability for goods and services that do cause death and pain.  One will probably die young.  The other will probably live in comfort to a ripe old age.
Each of them will go the way of all mortal flesh, taking nothing with them.  Their passing will be little noticed beyond a grateful few.  Neither grieved nor remembered, their time on earth will have amounted to what?  Nothing they have done will live after them as something to be remembered except, perhaps, as a footnote to an occasional story.  Certainly there will be nothing to celebrate.  They are not even notorious enough to go down as symbols of evil or greed.
It saddens me to think that such energy and intelligence will have so little to show for itself except for a few years of fleeting power and influence used to manipulate some small portion of society to benefit a few at the cost to so many.  What a waste.  

On the other hand, I just buried a ninety year old man who was an enlisted sailor during WWII, and owned a carpet store after the war.  A little guy of unlimited good will.  It was said of him that he gave his customers what they wanted, and what they needed: a good product at a fair price sold with a lot of joy, a little laughter, dumb jokes, and life long friendships.  He never made a lot of money, nor would he ever have been considered a community leader.  Yet life after life was made happier in his presence.  That was about it.  There is not much more to say; he made the world about him a better place, and the effect lives on through others whom he influenced to do the same.  Which would you say was the more successful in life?  

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