Much of value is intangible.
A polishing cloth with an Apple logo sells for $20. A 70-gram packet of Lays sells for $9. The 1938 Picasso painting Femme au béret rouge-orange, a portrait of Picasso’s muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter, sold for $40.5 million. Virgin Galactic’s ticket to the edge of space sells for $250,000 in contrast to $28 million for Blue Origin’s and $55 million for SpaceX’s. A celebrity’s speech at an event sells for $100,000. A share of Alphabet is currently selling for $2,897. A Bitcoin currently sells for $47,890.
It does not cost a fraction of the price they sell at to make or deliver any of these. The price in excess of their cost is a result of intangibles. A friend, a guru on intangible value, points out that the intangible value lies in your perception of self-worth in consuming it, the perception of your worth that others see in your consuming it, and your perception of uniqueness by consuming it contribute to the intangible value you place in things and activities.
Everything you value, is what you give your attention to. What is the intangible value of a minute of your attention? Yes, the minute that just disappeared.
Or your hour. Or the years which, like 2021, became history.
What is the intangible value of your attention in the time you have spent on this planet?
The intangible value of your minute, your hour, your years, and your life depends on the systems that you gave attention to, that you made your own for that unit of time.
Every time you come together with others for a purpose you form a system.
When you come together with a purpose to share joys and sorrows, you form a system we call as friendship. When you come together with a purpose to raise children, you form a system we call as family. When you come together with a purpose to empower, you form a system we call as companionship. When you come together with a purpose to learn, you form a system we call as a class. When you come together with a purpose of working together, you form a system we call as employment. When you come together with a purpose to entertain, you form a system we call a club. When you come together with a purpose to exchange goods or services, you form a system we call as a market. When you come together with a purpose to exchange surplus money, you form a system we call as banking.
Every purpose you participate with others is a system.
Each system you participate in is shaped by the actors you choose to include or exclude in your interactions to the purpose you have chosen to fill your time with. Every system that you give your attention to.
When you choose to include or exclude others in your interactions, you choose the system you want to be part of. You choose your attention. You define the system that you shape to serve the purpose of your choosing. You choose the people you spend your time with. You choose the purposes you spend your time on. You choose what and who you want to give your attention to. You choose the experiences you seek. You choose the system you want to be part of.
Your choice reflects and influences your character. It says who you are. It grabs your attention. Your attention reflects your generosity, or as French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil described it “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”. And it defines the intangible value of your time.
The many different purposes you participate with others make up the many systems that occupy the larger units of your time – days, weeks, months, years, or your lifetime.
The intangible value of your time, then, is decided by what purposes you participate with others. It is decided by the many different systems you choose to be give your attention to. It is decided by who you are.
If you are like most people, you simply allow others, or traditions, to make the choice about the systems you give your attention to. You allow them to decide who is or is not a part of the system. You allow them to decide the purposes you give your attention to and participate in with those they invited into the system. And you believe you make informed and willful choices when you allow your perception of your self-worth in participating in a system, the perception of your worth that others see in your participating in a system, and your perception of your uniqueness in a system decide the attention you give to the different systems chosen for you.
When your choices of the systems you spend time in follow these blind paths, you spend time in systems where the participants do not share common purposes. You spend time in systems that are coercive, exploitative, even abusive.
When your mind is clear about the purposes that matter to you and define the intangible value you seek, you are not confused about how you spend your time. When you lack clarity about purposes that matter to you, or the intangible value you seek, you are confused about where to spend your time. You are confused about the systems that you are a part of. You never have time.
Make a list of the systems you participate in. Highlight the ones that were chosen by others or by tradition. Now underline those you have found coercive, exploitative, or even abusive. Now ask yourself if you do have a problem finding time. Or if others find your interactions in the system inadequate.
Your time is the gift you make to others who gift their attention and time to pursue your common purposes. Together you create the intangible value of time. The value you create for yourself, others, and the world comes from the systems of your attention, from your choice of participation and the time you give spend with them. To paraphrase Annie Dillard’s haunting observation, how and who you spend your days with, of course, is how you value of your life.
Let this year be the one where you take charge, with courage and fortitude, of the systems you give attention to and fill your time with. At the end of your life whatever systems – purposes and people – compelled your attention from moment to moment is simply what the value of your life will have been.
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or individuals and institutions that may be quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph