The Colour of Money
Like it. Loathe it. Want it. Waste it. But you just cannot ignore it. What is with money that rumpled piece of printed paper in your wallet that the world bows to its power? The Secret lies in your own mind! By Saurabh Bhattacharya & Anupama Bhattacharya
Let’s talk money! Mammon’s earthly incarnation. Satan’s weapon of temptation. Capitalism’s rightful expression. We are talking about a piece of paper, right? A scrap created from wooden goo that wouldn’t even fetch a glass of water if used for trade on the basis of its actual worth.
So what makes money tick? We love it, we condemn it. We go all out to get as much of it as we can, we then we berate it for being a temptation! We live with it and realise our dreams through it, yet are the first to say ‘money can’t but everything’. Why?
Perhaps it’s only fair that we begin with one of the few people who actually championed money and its philosophical and ethical worth.
Value for value
“Money,” wrote Ayn Rand, cult author and controversial propounder of objectivist philosophy, “is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value.”
The catchphrase is ‘value for value’. And, maybe, trust in a promise made on a piece of paper. In this sense, money or trade recognises the belief that nothing in the world is free. Whatever we wish to have, has to be earned. So, if A wants what B owns, or is in a position to give, then A has to give B something of equal worth. Rand believed that only those who did not want to trade would condemn money. Who wanted for free what others had created with their effort and capability. To this, N.K. Somani, CMD of Shree Vindhya Paper Mills, Mumbai adds that money has served as a medium of exchange after trying a variety of other items, which were found lacking.
Perhaps it is worthwhile to wonder why money still draws so much flak. Why is it that most people hesitate to proclaim that they actually like money? What’s the taboo all about? When did a simple tool for exchange metamorphose into an ambivalent entity that is at once a source of shame and exultation?
“The man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it,” proclaims Ayn Rand boldly.
Is money evil?
Remember your first salary cheque? And the pride you felt to have earned something? How would you have felt if somebody had pointed out that it was wrong to like money? That the pride you were feeling was evil?
A large part of this negative image has come about thanks to a misreading of the scriptures by the world’s major organised religions, notably Christianity and Brahminical Hinduism. Wealth, claimed the pundits of yore, was a sin if it was not accumulated for a ‘godly’ purpose. Renunciation was the catchword, poverty the goal and austerity the norm of the day. If you did not practice these, you were a sinner, decreed to being either reborn as a lower animal if a Hindu, or to be barbecued in the fires of hell, if a Christian. There was, however, an easy way out. Just to keep donating money to religious institutions and God would turn a blind eye to how you earn your wealth.
As Canadian Nathan Lester says: Do you see a pattern here? Religion denounces money and then accepts 10 per cent of our earnings!”
The ancient Aramaic text might more accurately be translated as ‘for the lust after money is the root of all evil’. It’s perfectly acceptable to want to make more money. Only when money is accumulated for its own sake or its accumulation hurts others does money become bad.”
Ditto in Hinduism. Artha, or wealth, is legitimate; money is indispensable in the present state of society. Money is needed to build hospitals, schools, museums, and educational institutions, which distinguish a civilized society from a primitive one. Money gives leisure, a key factor in the creation of culture. But money must be earned according to Dharma; otherwise it debases a man by making him greedy and cruel.
The basic issue, therefore, is not whether money is evil but whether it has been earned ethically.
The ethics of wealth
Despite knowing this, many of us still shy away from talking about it openly. As New age guru Deepak Chopra puts it: “Most people find it difficult to tell someone exactly how much money they make. This is because they believe that they are worth only what they earn.”
According to Josh Stussel, host of the 20/20 American TV show, in a trade driven economy even if a person is greedy for more wealth, he just can’t grab it from others. “To get your money, he has to persuade you, entice you. To do that; he has to make something that you will willingly give him money for. All commerce requires both parties to take benefit. Take the simple example. I buy a quart of milk from a farm-woman. I hand her a dollar; she gives me the milk. We both benefit, because she wanted the dollar more than the milk, and I wanted milk more than the dollar.”
Ram Piparaiya, Chairman, Aridhi Hitech Industries, Mumbai agrees: “Money does not corrupt. It depends on the user. Corrupt people become more corrupt with it.” He, however, feels that those who don’t earn but win money, especially through lotteries or gambling, are more likely to be corrupted by it.
B.R. Tangri, chief manager (PR) at the Oriental Bank of Commerce, Delhi, has a point-blank response to the debate: “How can money be evil? After all, can one survive without money?”
“A knife can be used by a terrorist or by a surgeon,” agrees Somani. “Bofors guns can be used to defend the country or get embroiled in an underhand deal. Whether money corrupts or not depends on one’s attitude and character.”
Money may buy you ten yachts and five mansions. But, as the cliché goes, it really cannot buy you happiness. Or self-worth, for that matter. If you run after money to find what you couldn’t find within, you are chasing a mirage that will only leave you more at a loss
The right attitude
So what may be the right attitude to money? Joan Sotkin, inspirational teacher and creator of www.prosperityplace.com, views human-money interaction as another form of relationship and argues that laws applicable to any other healthy relationship also govern the attitude towards money. “Your individual relationship with money,” she says, “is similar to your relationship with yourself and others. Your financial relationships develop along the same energy pathways as everything else in your life.”
“Money,” says Somaiya, “is an indicator of practical success, but not of my self-worth.”
In his book You’ll See It When You’ll Believe It, Dr Wayne Dyer warns against this anomalous attitude: “If we have a scarcity mentality,” he argues, “it means that we believe in scarcity, that we evaluate our life in terms of its lacks. The theme of so many people’s life is ‘I simply do not have enough’, or ‘I would be a lot happier if I had…’ People believe that they live a life of lack because they are unlucky, instead of recognising that their belief system is rooted in scarcity thinking. Yet as long as they live with a scarcity mentality that is what they will attract to their lives.”
Most personal growth trainers, however, insist that this attitude is easily rectified. All it needs is a change in thought patterns regarding money. Says John McMurphy, author of Living Deliberately: “Money is only a state of mind; not a reality in, of, or for itself. If money remains a state of mind, therefore a spiritual reality and not an end in itself, then you always will have what you truly need and deserve.”
Success v/s money
Despite consumerism, it would be a mistake to read success as a synonym for money. Although the two often go hand in hand, money itself cannot make you a success, and vice-versa. Take A P J Abdul Kalam, former chief of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation. A simple man who came from a not-so-well-to-do family, nobody can deny that he is a success. Yet, who is interested in how much money he makes? What makes him a success is his intellect and achievements.
What about the sages who left all to seek something much more intangible? Were they any less of a success? Would the Buddha have been more successful had he stayed with his palace and wealth? Money rarely defines a person’s worth in the real sense of the term. In an ideal world, money would change hands ethically and the money that you earn would be directly proportionate to your capability. In the real world, money is often a result of lineage, contacts, unethical shortcuts or exploitation, so that the respect it should demand in ideal circumstances eludes it.
One should also save oneself from ‘Deadly Money Mistakes’ like:
Impulsive buying, Fanatical shopping, Passive buying, Esteem buying, etc. These are no-wise ways to spend money, rather one should do planned, well-informed, value for time and energy, minimalistic and smart spending.
Ambition or greed?
In the 80’s, Gordon Gecko, a character in the 1987 film Wall Street, equated greed with ambition, with the desire to better your own self. Actually there is a subtle difference between the two, and one can easily transmuted into the other. The difference, most often, lies in the motive. Dan Sullivan, a US-based personal growth trainer, notes: “ambition is the desire to have more, but greed is the desire to have more at the expense of others.
Ambition is natural and rational, but greed is a product of fear. Where there is no fear, there is no greed.”
One can also practice the four principles of prosperity: Intention, Preparation, Attention, and action; which is basically being clear about one’s life purpose and then acquiring the correct form of training for it, staying in the present moment and finally taking action.
The spirit of money
So, to what extent does money define our life? Is there anything beyond money?
Interestingly, this brings two sharply contradictory theories in focus—money as the basis of trade, with which we are all concerned, and money as temptation, where the less we have to do with it, the better. How does one balance the two?
With money, things that seem fair play from one point of view turn into ethically suspect areas from other perspectives. Actually, the problem does not lie with money at all, it lies with our perspective. At its basest level, what is money? A piece of paper, a promissory note, a piece of plastic, a punched-in number on the stock market. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
The person who amasses great wealth through hard work, and the person who gives away all in the blink of an eye share the same platform from a spiritual perspective. Both are following their dharma. Money plays but a negligible role in terms of their spiritual evolution, since money is the outcome, not the source of their perspectives on life.
“Money does not define us,” says Tom. “We define what money means.” And so long as our life is governed by a reliance on our swadharma, the innate correctness of action that one is born with, the money that we earn would not just benefit us, but also contribute to a better and prosperous society.
The enigma of money is a creation of our own minds. Then why get ensnared in it? It may come as a cliché to many, but we are the masters of money. Believe that—rationally and lucidly—and you have money by the short and curlies!
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