11/03/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Difference Between Wealth and Money

Ordinary people are outraged that the wealthy want to be given free money as a bailout, and at the same time they are frightened about losing their own money. Fear doesn't live in a vacuum. To cope with uncertain times, many turn to morality. They blame runaway greed on Wall Street, even though, as a commentator wisely said, Wall Street without greed would just be pavement. They blame the financial world in general for being selfish and rapacious. They blame government for not looking after the average Joe, and finally, many people wonder if God isn't blaming all of us for our sinful ways.

This flood of blame and judgment shows an impoverishment of spirit that is far worse than loss of money. Jesus was asking a serious question when he said, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul?" By the same logic he told his listeners to store up wealth in heaven, not on earth. This turns out to be good economics, because the more you attach your worth to money, the more harmed you will be in a crash. But there's much more to it, of course. To be wealthy in spirit means that you are confident, tolerant and forgiving of others. If that seems too idealistic in hard times, then consider this. You are wealthy if you don't need the things money can buy in order to prosper.

When we were young and didn't have money, what motivated us? Enthusiasm, a vision of the future, the desire to follow a personal vision, curiosity about the world, a drive to fulfill our own potential, and love for those we wanted to nourish and support. All those things are tied to money, but they aren't the same as money. They are the coins of spiritual wealth. Wealth of spirit gives you the ability to make a living. Having money in the bank doesn't lead to love of others or a vision that motivates you to be better tomorrow than you are today. The way out of this financial crisis is for Americans to regain more inner wealth. How is that done?

-- Reject fear and pessimism.
-- Know what your vision is and act upon it.
-- Don't blame others and seek payback when things go wrong.
-- Prosper inwardly through love, generosity, giving, and altruism.
-- Stop identifying with your salary and possessions.
-- Work for the common good whenever you can.

No country has ever had a Golden Age when people lived by all these things, but there are times when these things dominate social behavior and other times when they are forgotten. I think it's foolish to try and calculate whether America is in moral decline. Individual lives are always full of promise and hidden potential. The rise of a corrupt ruling class and the huge inequalities between rich and poor aren't a good sign, but even here there's enormous will to pull back from the brink. The key to a turnaround isn't financial or moral, for that matter. It comes down to understanding the difference between wealth and money, and then living as if that difference matters.

Lest people think an idealist vision does not translate into practical economics, let us consider some of the specific policy outcomes that the current crisis could lead to:
1. A de-militarized economy that does not equate security with the size of the Pentagon's budget.
2. Investment in wisdom-based economies, including alternative energies, sustainable agriculture and ways to restore balance in the ecosystem.
3. A genuine re-investment in education that rewards excellence in science and creativity.
4 The building of infrastructure, including urban oil-free transportation, restoring our bridges, roads, parks, and forest.
5. Comprehensive health care coverage for everyone in the country.

Every crisis comes with opportunity. Knowing the difference between wealth and money provides the wisdom to seize these creative opportunities. A monetary bailout, on the other hand would merely serve as a band-aid, not a long-term solution.

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