If money is the root of all evil, then contempt and jealousy is the tree that blossoms from it. Not that I believe money in itself is the root of evil, but that people's desire, quest for, obsession with and what they compromise to get it, is often what we see as "evil." We relate and assume it is the money, when in fact it is how people use and or abuse money. It is no different than drugs, alcohol or sex.
I know someone that is obsessive about holding on to every fraction of every cent that they can. They are always concerned with how big their 'nest egg' is to the extent that they fail to enjoy the amazing things that are before them.
Don't get me wrong, I do feel that savings are a very important and critical part of our lives. We have no way of knowing when we will lose our job, when a tragedy might strike or when we will need funds to buy a house, buy a car or help our children with school. But, hoarding money and holding on to it with an iron fist does not allow you to enjoy life.
When you pass from this world, will your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews say "I'm sad to see them go, but at least they died rich"? I suppose there are those that might say that, but at the end of the day as your body lies in its coffin or it lies next to the incinerator waiting to be turned to ash -- that money, all of those savings -- will be worthless if you haven't lived your life.
Two Sides of the Coin
My father and step-mother are not wealthy. They are simple farmers, but they are the richest people I have ever known. With weathered skin and wrinkles here and there, they welcome anyone they meet with open arms. They bend over backwards for the man they have never met, not because they hope to get something in return, but because it's the right thing to do. In turn, people do things for them, fix a fence, help bale hay, feed the horses.
When my children visit them, they do not say, "I like Grandma and Grandpa because they buy me things." In fact, I asked my son why he loves his grandma and grandpa so much. His reply was, "Because Grandma reads to me and because Grandpa plays with me."
Could they afford to do more? Yes, of course, and they do things like take them to the zoo, take them to a local cave and take them canoeing. The things they choose to do with them aren't inexpensive because they don't have the money, it's because the quality of what they are doing is more important than the cost.
I have an acquaintance I know who lives just outside of Phoenix. He owns a very profitable automotive software company. He has two children, who he rarely sees, has had several plastic surgeries and could no doubt be mistaken for being in his thirties, despite the fact he is in his fifties. When he does see his children, he takes them out in his private jet to California so that he can take them to a theater or to a posh restaurant where he will spend $400 on a meal with them. This same man has everyone at his beck and call, but take away his money and no one would do anything for him, because he treats others with contempt and has an attitude of entitlement.
Two extremes perhaps, but extremes speak volumes. One buys the affection of others, while the other earns it.
Reality and Perspective
There are of course a million shades of gray between these two examples. However, I notice frequently that they still follow suit with either buying or earning. Those that buy, feel that they are entitled to a higher level of society and respect than those that earn, whereas those that earn do not feel they are entitled to anything but gain a deeper respect from those around them.
I live in a fairly affluent community. No, I am not one of the affluent members, but I have many friends who are. There is a large Jewish community and a large Catholic community within the neighboring towns, two more strangely divided groups which themselves have divided subgroups.
Both the Jewish and the Catholics in my community (and I'm sure others around the world) have those that are considered 'high society members'. People who hire someone to do everything for them and expect their children to have better treatment than the other children, simply because they have a higher 'standing' from an economic perspective. Then you have the polar opposites; those that are strong in their faith and cast aside monetary possessions for the greater good of their faith in God.
Am I generalizing? Yes, and no. The members of the community, whether they want to admit it or not, do indeed fall into these generalizations. Not because they strive to meet one objective or another in being as I described, but more because of who they socialize with. A middle-class, stay-at home-mom socializes with other stay-at-home moms who have wealthy husbands. The middle-class mother wants to fit in, wants to live the life that she sees her friends living and thus starts to change her home, her car and her possessions -- losing sight of what was most important and what made her more wealthy than all her friends; her children and the joy that they had in the time that they spent with her.
Our Fundamental Values
What makes America special? What makes the UK, Japan and many other modernized countries distinct? It is the affluence of these societies. But, has our affluence caused us to somehow mitigate the importance of family, friendship, love and relationships?
I have been working on editing a book called Money and the Human Condition for a good friend of mine. In the book he states:
We dream and fantasize about having wealth. Not only do we desire wealth but we are also impatient in our quest for wealth. Instant gratification seems to be in our genes. This is why state lotteries are so successful or why casinos can be such big money makers. And this in spite of the fact that every person that has ever stepped foot in a casino or ever bought a lottery ticket knows unequivocally that the vast majority of people lose and that their odds are extremely slim of winning. So why do we do it?
Why do we do it? Because we have been taught that the dollar is what gives us self-worth. But it's wrong, so wrong. Go home tonight and hug your spouse, your kids, your parents, your grandparents, your cat, your dog or even your friends. Because those are what make you rich... that is where your true wealth lies.