The Parable of the Sower: 4. Increase Your Relationship Wealth


At the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey (played by James Stewart) is proclaimed “the richest man in town” as the entire town crowds into his living room to offer him help and hope.   And yet, the richest man in the town of Bedford Falls is surely Mr. Potter (played by Lionel Barrymore), the 1946 version of “the 1% percent.”   George Bailey is considered the richest man in the town because he was the richest person in terms of relationships, of the number of lives he touched.

I was reminded of this scene just two months ago.   On 10/28/2014, my youngest brother Jim unexpected passed away from a heart attack.   After calling the fire department, and tending to the questions from the police and first responders, we then went into my father and told him the news.   It was a shock because he didn’t expect to outlive any of his children, particularly the youngest.   By that Saturday, we had told all of our relatives, my brother’s friends and colleagues from his stonemason’s union, and they gathered to pay their respects, not just to Jim but to my father as well.    It was a visitation, but also a memorial service in the sense that many people came up to my Dad and told him how his son had touched their lives with his cheerful personality and hopeful spirit in the face of adversity.   My Dad was very reflective afterwards and realized that, rather than mourning the loss of a son, he had spent the past few hours helping others celebrate my brother’s life and all the numerous connections he made, some of the unbeknownst to any of us until the day of his funeral.

And that’s when that line came back to me from “It’s a Wonderful Life”:   “he’s the richest man in town.”   When my older brother John and I had a chance to reflect on our lives this year, we found we both got part-time work in the past year, and are on our way towards recovering from the layoffs we both received back in 2010, almost five years ago.   John moved out to South Carolina, and I moved back to Chicago from Southern California in the last year (2013), and the past year has been good to us in many ways.    For me, the biggest difference has been that last summer, I came back to Chicago knowing absolutely no one other than my family, and after I finished helping my father recover my a stroke, I faced the decision of whether to return to California or try my luck here.

What tipped the scale was that, while helping my Dad recover from his stroke, with all of the physical and speech rehabilitation that required, I joined three groups:   1) a Unitarian church, 2) a Toastmasters Club, and 3) a professional association, the Project Management Institute.    I started getting to know people and, more importantly, starting leading other by taking on various leadership positions.    I was making relationship investments that after several months, started to pay off.   That’s why I decided to stay, because I had invested not financially, but emotionally in the relationships I had established.   Now, one year later, I have leadership positions in all three groups.   I am a member of the Board of Directors of my church, I am President of my Toastmasters Club and an Area Governor for the area my club is in, and I am the Director of Certification for the Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Institute.

These positions, which I got through networking, are in turn bringing a lot of people into my network, and I am sure that next year, these new relationships in my expanded network will pay continued dividends into my life.   But whatever professional opportunities may come my way, I know this:   I was able to weather the storm of my brother’s passing with a lot more equanimity than if I had living alone with no support network.

So to those feeling the traumatic loss of a job or a loved one, start investing in your relationships with other people, and your grief will not disappear, but will be of greatly reduced duration.    When my brother passed away, there was about one week there when it was really hard to get back into the swing of things, until I realized that the celebration of my brother’s life rather than his death at his visitation and memorial service was a way of giving myself permission to, in a sense, celebrate my own life by going forward with enthusiasm and renewed purpose.    It increased the strength of my relationship with my own self, and for that, I feel truly wealthy!

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