Friday, May 28, 2010

Greed

I’ve been thinking about money lately. The old saying is that ‘money is the root of all evil’. I understand what that means, but I don’t agree. Money doesn’t have to be the root of all evil if it is used well. It can be the source of much material happiness for many people if used well. Life can be stressful without enough money to pay the bills and other necessary things. Extra money adds some fun to life-- tickets to the opera or to the ballet, or paying off the last of the credit card debt, or taking a trip somewhere—all of these are something to look forward to and to enjoy. And money makes it possible.

The real problem is greed. Greed is the root of all evil. And it does not just have to be greediness for more money. A person can be greedy for power, prestige, success and many other things in addition to money, and that greed can destroy his or her life because he or she lives life as an envious person, always looking at others and wanting what they have, always scrambling, always plotting, always strategizing about the next big thing that will get them what the others have which is what they want. If this type of greed doesn’t lead to evil, I don’t know what will. I know people who will never be happy because they never really ‘see’ their achievements, so that they keep on racing to ‘make it’ until they reach their graves. And they make everyone else around them unhappy. Their greediness for power, prestige and success is the only thing that motivates them. It makes no sense to me and I imagine that it is mostly unpleasant to live with people like this on a daily basis. It certainly is unpleasant to work with people like this each day. These are the people who can never be happy for the successes of others, who can never say to another person—‘Good job’ or ‘Well-done’ or ‘Congratulations’, because to do so would mean that they are somehow diminished. If another person is exalted, they are suddenly worth very little. So they say nothing at all. They are misers in the sense that they withhold praise, compliments, and feedback. Their type of greed leads to stinginess. I think of all the wonderful people I know who have never been stingy with praise, with feedback or with compliments. It is those people who make the world worth living in. They counterbalance the evil of greed.

I read the other day that Art Linkletter, the well-known American radio and TV personality, had died. Shortly before he died he had granted an interview about his life where he had been asked what he considered his greatest achievement. His answer was family. It struck me as quite unusual (and quite nice) that a man as wealthy and powerful as he would answer in this way, but it was a good answer. He and his wife were married for nearly seventy-five years. That by itself is a phenomenal achievement. But what mostly struck me about his answer was how generous it was. It was an inclusive answer. His family shared his life, his successes and his failures. By saying that, he validated them and that is generous. That type of generosity is something you remember throughout your whole life—it is the candle that lights the way when darkness enters our lives.

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