Money – Human Doing or Human Being

My daughter at 14 years of age asked me, “Why is it that people don’t want to tell other people how much money they make? I would be happy to tell them how much money I make. Why do people care so much what other people think about how much money they make? Besides, I’m going to be a millionaire and people will love me because I’m a millionaire and if I’m not a millionaire, they will love me because I’m awesome.” My daughter summed it up well. Do we want to be a human doing or a human being?

John Kavanaugh, a Jesuit moral theologian has this to say about the corrosive impact the consumerist culture has on families and us:

“I know of no other force so pervasive, so strong, and so seductive as the consumer ideology of capitalism and its fascination for endless accumulation, extended working hours, the drumming up of novel need fulfillments, the theologizing of the mall, the touting of economic comparison, the craving for legitimacy through money and possessions, and unrelieved competition at every level.”

Dean Brackley, S.J. wrote about downward mobility instead of upward mobility. It’s a way to detach and have more freedom in our lives. With more freedom, we can explore new possibilities for our lives and more self-fulfillment.

A consumer culture breeds competition and creates an individualist society. This doesn’t mean that our desires for money are negative. A capitalistic society is a very efficient system for production and distribution of goods. The problem is created when all we do is think about us as individuals and forget about family, friends, and the community.

A discussion of salary is perhaps the biggest taboo in a social setting. We can quickly size people up and measure their worth. If we know a person’s salary, we can instantly see that person in a certain light. He/She is either worth more or less than you. You will either be jealous of this individual who makes more than you or this individual is less than you.

Money is a powerful force in our culture. People alleviate feelings of insecurity by having or consuming. We fill our boredom and emptiness with things rather than loving relationships.

We have a stepladder in our culture. Those at the top of the ladder are the movie stars, the rich man or woman, or the model. At the bottom are the loser, the refugee, and the unemployed.

With this stepladder mentality, it is easy to ignore the very poor. They can remind us that things don’t always work out the way we want it to work. We worry, “what if that were me?” Those thoughts create more urgency for us to climb away from those “losers.”

Our security depends on climbing the ladder. We are tempted to ask not “Is this right?” but “Is this best for me?”

Competition becomes the guiding force of social life. Other people’s success threatens our security.  As Gore Vidal once wrote, “It is not enough that I succeed. Others must fail.”

We can’t all be on top. Those on top want to keep everyone else in their place. Power can then be exercised to keep those lower groups dependent, confused, or ignorant. Social class, race, sexual orientation education, physical appearance, and gender can lead to further divisions.

Finally, competition between the group’s breed not trust and cooperation but fear, mistrust, and let’s add loneliness. We have all heard that expression, “It’s lonely at the top.”

We need a lot of energy to stay on top. Let’s set some of this aside. There can be beauty to a simple lifestyle. Tiny homes have become quite popular these days. Setting aside the desire to be on top can be the “cause of great delight.” Simple living is not a punishment, but a move toward greater freedom.

With greater freedom in your life, you can have time to pursue some of those dreams that you have set aside. You can have time for love. We can spend time with the family, friends, and help out in our community. You can stop being a human doing but a human being.

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