From the second-grade English teacher who inspired us to write stories to the Monday night yogini who “floats” with remarkable grace, our gurus come in all shapes and sizes. At 5 foot 8 and balding, Jeff Bezos isn’t the looming giant one might expect from the billionaire titan who founded Amazon. But you can’t judge a book by its cover—even if it was purchased online with a free-shipping guarantee. The Miriam Webster defines guru as “a teacher and intellectual guide in matters of fundamental concern,” and few would argue that, as soon as the dark cloud of Black Friday rolls in, the “fundamental concern” of every red-blooded North American is shopping. Bezos’ cartel of Amazonian proportions boasts an empire of eager followers worldwide. While spiritual leaders guide their devotees to solutions for inner peace and social harmony, Bezos leads consumers through the torment of holiday shopping malls, chaotic parking lots, and death-defying bargain hunts, with his advent of what is now the world’s largest online retailer. Saints of ancient times are known to have bestowed their teachings on devotees for little more than an apple and humble prostration, but Bezos enjoys an estimated 135.99 BILLION dollars in annual sales, a personal net worth of over 93 billion, and the beaming title of “Second Richest Man on the Planet.” Monetarily, at least, this proves our seasonal values are in order, as shopping trumps the quest for the less instantly gratifying quest for enlightenment. With over a billion books to choose from, all at a fraction of the in-store cost, it seems a no-brainer. Why engage in introspection when you can shine a book light on Jodie Pico’s latest? Why work for it when you can read about it? Entertainment, not enlightenment, is the quest for society. But does Bezos’ inward life gleam and glimmer like the gazillion pixels of a shiny new Kindle? He might have saddled up near Bill Gates in the race towards exorbitant profit, but does his philanthropy compare? According to Amy Schiller, not so much. The professional giving consultant and researcher says, “Bezos has probably had philanthropy in his mental cart for a while . . . And kept clicking ‘save for later.’” So, maybe Bezos has yet to win a medal for his humanitarian efforts, but he does have some redeeming qualities—good old-fashioned determination being one.
Entertainment, not enlightenment, is the quest for society.
Amazon.com was the exception in a stream of failed start-up ideas. Bezos launched the online business with the help of a dubious employee in a garage with just enough space for his vision and the energy to see it through. He wasn’t born a billionaire, but rather the child of a teenage mom (she was 16 when she had him) and an absent dad, proving once again that America is the land of infinite opportunity, an open landscape of potential for those who are willing to chase it. While our Christmas wish (and apparently that of his parents) be that Bezos widen his scope to include a humanitarian agenda, for now, he enlightens us on the ethos of modern capitalism as a spiritual path that’s well worth pursuing.