Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Teaching Frugality

Donations and frugality do not often go together. They did recently when a married couple donated over 30 million dollars to KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), the Korean MIT. Their lifestyle is an example of frugality that would be hard  to beat. The Chosun Daily carried the story of their donation on the front page, followed a few days later with an article describing their frugal lifestyle.

It was reported that they would take a toothpick and cut it with a razor blade horizontally and vertically to make 8 useful toothpicks. Some considered this an exaggeration but the journalist writing the articles asks, is it?

When eating out, they would bring home napkins to use again, and after washing their hands would use the same water to flush the toilet, or find other uses for the water. The husband does acknowledge that there will be those who think that what they are doing amounts to little but he believes that it is a good example for their children.

The Chosun Daily editorial said the gift of the couple is another sign  that  those with  money  are not holding on to it until their death in order to pass it on to their children,  but are returning it back to society which helped them make the money: a  good sign of a healthy capitalism.

As Catholics we have a tradition that sees the natural virtues as the virtues practiced "in medio stat virtus" (Latin for "virtue is in the middle"), midway between the extremes of too much and too little. In this case, the first thought would be that the frugality shown was too much, that time spent in making the toothpicks would have been better used for other purposes.

The happy mean is not easily achieved, and, possibly, the extreme does occasionally serve a purpose in a consumer society by allowing us to see frugality as a virtue that should guide more of our decisions in life.

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