Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Greed is Not Good

I recently had lunch with a delightful friend who we’ll call Anne, and – as usual – our conversation traveled all over the map. We meet for lunch about once every six weeks or so, and invariably, just around the time we are settling the check, one of us will look at her watch and say, “My God, would you look at the time?”

But before we got to that pre-parting rhetorical question, Anne had shared with me the details of her husband’s recent experience as a forward-thinking landscape architect who, in my opinion, is probably a genius.

I’ll get to that in a minute (his experience, I mean).

First, though – since this post is essentially about money – I should share the context of my perspective.

I feel no draw to money.

I am not driven by it. I don’t crave it. I don’t make decisions based on it. And I just think it’s grossly overrated.

Which brings me to my own personal definition: Money is something other people need for me to have.

I’m not recommending this definition on anyone, and frankly, there are months when my relationship with money puts me in the “fear place” for a few too many days, but… read it and weep, that’s just me.

Now, to Anne’s husband’s story…

I’m going to give the cliff notes here, because whenever terms like “venture capitalists” or “stock options” are introduced into a story, I pretty much start hearing Charlie Brown’s teacher talking. (As in, “WAH. WAH. WAH?”) But I got the gist of the story, and the gist is this:

Anne’s husband created a company, and within that company, he combined his skills as a landscape architect with his appreciation for our planet’s precarious balance. His passions led to patents, and as his creations generated income, he grew a staff. A staff that he respected and hoped would feel nurtured.

Anne’s husband wisely knew that he did not want to be CEO of said company, so a CEO was hired.

As venture capitalists came forth, the CEO recommended that insiders reduce their stock values. And Anne’s husband’s stock values always got reduced the most.

The longer the CEO was there, the more he had his way, and the less the company resembled the vision of Anne’s husband. Ultimately, Anne’s husband realized that the change was irreversible, and – to keep from becoming physically knotted into perpetuity – he moved on (still holding stocks).

Recently, the company that Anne’s husband created was sold, and Anne’s husband received his cut, as per his reduced stock values. His cut was impressive, but it was about one-tenth of what he should have received. To this day, he can drive through neighborhoods, pointing out the environmentally positive impact of his inventions. But his cut… not so big.

And that’s the story (or at least, that’s the story I came away with).

I also came away from this story with a question: should GREED be classified as a mental illness?

In anticipation of exploring this theory, I did some googling, and here’s what The Free Dictionary provides for the definition of mental illness: Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual's normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma.

For me, the key word there is “normal,” so let’s run with that for a moment…

I love it, The Free Dictionary includes, as the first definition of “normal” (as a noun): Something normal …HAH! (Thanks for the clarification there!)

Okay, so let’s back up to the definitions of “normal” as an adjective, since that’s the appropriate context. Definition #1: Conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm, standard, pattern, level, or type; typical

See? There’s that “norm” again.

This brings me to the conclusion that no one actually knows what is “normal” (and, frankly, that works for me), but I still think that greed is a mental illness.

Greed is anti-social, obsessive, and self-serving.

Greed doesn’t care who gets hurt.

Greed is narcissistic.

Greed is NOT good.

Hmm… with all the pharmaceuticals out there, available to offset this or that mental malady, do you think they’ll develop one to cure (or at least reduce the manifestations of) greed?

I doubt it.

Because the pharmaceutical companies are right there among the greedy.

I’m so glad I don’t care about money, and I truly pity the folks who put it at the top of their lists.

They’re missing the magic and grace of life.

They’re missing my normal.


Paul C said...

I think we can all identify certain people who exhibit more greed than others: greed at work, in relationships, in personal quests....Wonderful reflection about the magic and grace in life which offers transcendence and peace.

Martha Gates-Mawson said...

Through the ups and downs of the economy, it is those who find happiness in the smallest things that come through unscathed. I love your philosophy and you will be pleased to know that it has been adopted by her niece as well. As Mr. Micawber said in David Copperfield, "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

Jules said...

Me either, live for money that is. I want just enough to survive on and not so much the vultures start circling. Key words, "Head Trauma" some form of trauma made them greedy and there is hope. If the pharmaceutical companies realize how many people are greedy, they will make a pill :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Heidi-"Heidi in Real Life" said...

I like this one--it's got me thinking. I am always surprised by greedy people. They think of things I can't fathom and manage to get away with it. Money most certainly does not make people happy. What a shame for your friend's husband.

irishoma said...

What a fascinating and thought-provoking post. I agree greed is an evil and ugly beast. I'm not sure it should be classified as a mental illness--maybe a character defect.
I feel sad for your friend and her husband who were used by the greedy CEO. On a positive note, your friend's husband sounds like a creative visionary. While he has been blessed with being creative, the greedy CEO who took advantage of him will more than likely always have to rely on creative types to be successful.
Donna V.

BECKY said...

Fabulous post, Katie. I feel the same way, too. It would be nice to not worry about paying the bills sometimes, but I could never live in mansions, spend ridiculous amounts of money on "things", or expect people to like me because I was wealthy! (unfortunately that's probably how most of the people outside of the US think we Americans are. ie: stupid "reality" tv shows)
I can find happiness in the smallest things, and I believe that is what keeps me happy and "alive".

Pearl said...

Greed! Certainly leads to some interessting behaviors, some of which can be classified as criminal!

But, you know? I've not had enought money to pay the bills, and I've had enough money to pay the bills. I prefer the latter. :-)


Anonymous said...

Great post Katie. Money is just something we thought up to barter with. I think I'd rather go back to bartering the old way - my cow for your pig? We all need just enough and no more.:-)

Nancy said...

First, I'd like to thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog, Katie. New perspectives are always welcome and appreciated.

I guess I'll never know if money matters to me, because I've never really had alot of it. I do know I parted with lots of it to live life my way -- and didn't blink an eye. Money comes and goes but you only have one life to make your own.

Great post, very interesting topic. :)

Deb Shucka said...

It's the meek who inherit ultimately. You stopped me in my tracks with the proposal that greed could be a mental illness (and made me snort laughter). I like the idea - a lot. I like your writing even more.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a greedy person or a materialistic one. However, I'm in deep credit card debt which is the result of years of living above my means. Guess I had to learn humility the hard way.

Mel said...

“The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.” ~ Charles Kuralt

Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds said...

Your friend's experience is the basic plot of the movie Social Network. Greed is kind of like asshole. There's no pill that cures asshole. (That's a quote directly from me. As far as I know.)

Jayne Martin said...

As the saying goes, "I've been rich (well, comfortable) and I've been poor and rich is better." But I've never ever been greedy. Even in my most money-challenged times, I've always believed in the abundance of the Universe and usually something will come along to save my sorry butt.

I think greed is based on fear. And I choose to have faith.

Good post, my friend. Very thought-provoking.

Green Monkey said...

GREAT post Katie!

My husband worries about money and works in finance, so its fair to say (in my opinion) that he is overly focused on money but he is not greedy.

85% of my clients are greedy. Out of those 85%, 55% are noticeably miserable.

I don't worry about money, I am not focused on money, but I do enjoy nice things. I'm generous, sometimes to a fault. But this is my way of managing my good fortune.

What a thought provoking post! thank you Katie!

Anonymous said...

Joey - I like that quote. I'd like to fill the prescriptions of several people I know, but it won't work!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Great post, Katie. My dad always said, "Money won't buy happiness, but it will sure keep you comfortable while you're waiting to die." So while I agree that greed is not good, I also believe that there isn't anything wrong with wanting to be comfortable, either. Also, the more I have, the more I can give away! And giving really does feel good. :)

Cheryl said...

Beautiful write, Katie. I don't think greed is an illness. It's an ugly way of thinking and behaving in the same vein as gossip, vengefulness, and some of our other less pretty human qualities.

I hope your friend's husband has found a new outlet for his genius.