Money: A Great Idea Gone Bad?

Where did it all go so wrong?

Money was supposed to keep the peace, not ruin it. When caveperson #1 wanted something from caveperson #2, s/he would look to trade. If #2 also wanted something from #1, all good! But what would happen if there weren’t a mutual wanting? Someone would get hurt, even killed; and given our dependency on our tribe, if the failed trade was between clans, a major wipe-out could occur.

In a moment of genius, an alternative to direct trade was introduced.  Something EVERYONE could agree on as valuable  came in as a third party to make the peace. I want your pots but you don’t want my weavings, here, take some wampum instead. Or gold, or sheckles… Great idea!

Money, though, is a little like tofu. I think this is what happened. Once an actual substance that was universally desirable, money instead became representative — the gold in Fort Knox is represented by the cash in your pocket, and the cash in your pocket was replaced ten years ago by those pesky credit cards — and therefore increasingly intangible. The intangible lacks a flavor of its own, and is much more prone to taking on whatever fears and beliefs the user has.

If austerity is my goal, then money is evil. If I’m living paycheck to paycheck, it’s my master. And if I’m a wealthy investor, it’s my bitch.

This month, I’ve got some help from others who, on a daily basis, help with the money issue, including financial advisors who run into all kinds of unhealthy dynamics when they talk to clients and potential clients around long range planning. I’ll explore the paradigm of money as addiction for some of us, and the curious way in which we treat money addicts as opposed to the addicts of other substances, even though the effect is quite a bit more damaging. And I’ll expand on some of the ways our families and our religions have muddied the waters around a simple tool, making it the heartless and jilting lover/temptress of universal desire.

So here’s what I suggest, as we’re priming for the discussion: lay something out before you that represents money. Your checkbook, monthly rent or mortgage statement, or actual cash. Just sit there, and notice what comes up. Write down some notes, and send them to me.

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