by Izzy Kalman (August 2004)
I didn’t expect to be writing again about money, the main subject of my last newsletter, but I received so many lengthy letters from upset readers that I realized the subject of money needs more attention. The points I had made are so simple but so foreign to our consciousness that many readers just don’t get it. They strongly disagree about the nature of money and, understandably, don’t like the suggestion that they are “hypocrites.” (By the way, I am also a hypocrite. You can detect my hypocrisy better than I can.)
It’s really not fair. I never heard anyone criticize Jesus for calling people hypocrites, yet when I do it for the very same reasons Jesus did, people get upset with me.
Why do I make such a big deal about hypocrisy? While the world is making such a big deal about bullies, the greatest danger to the world is not bullies; it is hypocrisy, or self-deception. Many, if not most, of my readers are mental health professionals, and one of our main tasks it to raise self-awareness. But how can we raise others’ self awareness while we are simultaneously deceiving ourselves about our own true nature. As I hope will become increasingly obvious, most of us profess to having enlightened values and seek the welfare of life on the planet, while financially supporting the very processes we are condemning. Since we are not aware of our role in destructive practices, we will do nothing to stop destruction other than preach.
Before getting to the matter of money, I want to talk about bullying. At least 90% of the incidents that we call bullying are verbal insults. Today it is considered terrible to insult anyone, and many people believe that insults are even worse than physical attacks. Thus, we are teaching today “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words hurt my feelings, and that is even worse,” and “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words kill.”
Many adults get upset when I suggest they are hypocrites, but these very same adults freely call others “bully” without any sense of wrongdoing. At my seminar on bullying, I have participants categorize a list of twenty terms into two categories: Diagnosis and Insult. “Bully” is one of the words on the list. At least 99% of participants put the word “bully” in the Insult list. Though armies of social scientists are busy doing research on bullies as though “bully” is a scientific diagnosis, practically everyone recognizes it as an insult rather than a diagnosis. It is a nasty, judgmental term we use for someone who is beating us in a power struggle. If name-calling is an act of bullying, the very act of calling someone else a bully makes one a bully.
Very few people think of themselves as hypocrites. That is because of the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance. Human beings have a powerful need to believe that we are “right” and “good.” That is why we argue so passionately over our beliefs. When faced with ideas that contradict our beliefs, we experience “cognitive dissonance” and perform mental manipulations to get rid of the dissonance and restore inner harmony. This keeps us (myself included) from recognizing our hypocrisy.
The same is true about bullies. Very few people see themselves as bullies. In the June newsletter, I pointed out that only 3% of survey respondents believed themselves to be bullies even though most of them have at least one person in their lives that regularly get angry at them. When someone is angry at us, we feel that we are their victim, but the reason they get angry at us is that they feel we are bullying them. So we feel we are victims but others see us as their abusers.
One of the popular myths about bullies promoted by social scientists is that bullies are incapable of empathy or remorse. Our social scientists come to this conclusion because when they accuse kids of being bullies, the kids deny any wrongdoing and blame their victims. But even mental health professionals do the same thing! We all tend to see ourselves as the victims in conflicts and blame the other side. It is normal human behavior.
I have been called a “bully” many times by my readers. Why? Not because I beat people up, threaten them, or call them names. I get called “bully” for supposedly “blaming victims”, i.e., showing victims how they unintentionally contribute to their problems and teaching them how to solve them. I assure you, I did not like being called a bully. I found it quite insulting. On the scale of offensiveness, I think “bully” and “hypocrite” rank pretty equal. People get offended when I call them “hypocrite” but don’t realize there’s anything wrong with calling me “bully” in return. But let’s not point this out to anyone. No need to stir up any cognitive dissonace!
The Nature of Money
My point is that money is “power over people.” It is nothing more and nothing less. All it is good for is getting human beings to do things for you. (If you haven’t already done so, now would be a good time to read my previous newsletter. Click on the link below.) Unfortunately, this idea provokes cognitive dissonance in many of us. I greatly sympathize with those who wrote me long, articulate, moving letters about their personal struggles with money. One competent psychologist is leaving the profession because insurance companies are decreasing reimbursements and thereby preventing her from making an adequate living. Others are worried about being able to afford retirement, vacations, and their monthly bills. The consistent theme of these letters is: “For some people, money is a way to have power over people, but not for me.”
What do you think retirements and vacations are? They mean being able to have others provide us with food, clothing, electricity, car maintenance, health care, etc., while we are doing absolutely no work in return for anyone else! Where do you think the food, clothing, etc., come from? Do they make themselves for us? No. They are all made by other human beings. We all want to be able to leisurely enjoy freedom for the weeks of our vacation or the years of our retirement while having others serve us!
Just because we may be having trouble paying our monthly bills does not change the fact that money is power over people. Saying that “money is something that some people use to have power over people” is like saying “food is something that some people use as nutrition for the body.” The definition of food is nutrition for the body. Some people ingest more than they need, but it doesn’t change what food is. And money is what we use for power over people. Some of us have more money than we need to survive, but it doesn’t change the nature of money for all of us. Being able to pay our bills means being able to get others to produce food, electricity, medical care, housing, etc, that we need or want. It is all made possible thanks to money. Money is how we store power over people for use at our discretion.
Is Money Evil? I wrote last time that money turns us into hypocrites and blinds to our complicity in actions we consider evil. Some people wrote to me (and we have all heard this throughout our lives) that money itself is neither good nor evil. It is what we do with it that determines whether it is good or evil.
This is very true. Money can be used for good, such as giving charity or providing others with jobs. However, the pull to evil is so powerful because we don’t see what money really is. I will soon explain how this works.
Money: Possibly the Greatest Invention of All Time
I want it to be clear that I am not against money. On the contrary, I want as much of it as I can get. There are people who actually don’t want money. I have met some of them. Most were certifiably insane.
A case can easily be made that money is the single greatest invention in the history of the world. If money were suddenly to stop existing, I estimate that at least 95% of us would be dead in a matter of months. Do you think 6 billion people can live on this planet through bartering? How would it work? “I’ll trade you two minutes of psychotherapy for a loaf of bread”? “Build me a house and I’ll give you fifteen hours of psychotherapy a week for thirty years”? If money had not been invented, society could never have gotten beyond the simple, backbreaking agricultural life of our ancestors ten thousand years ago. Money is literally to civilization what blood is to the body.
Money and Self-Deception
As I mentioned in the previous newsletter, almost everyone recognizes that if you pay someone else to do harm, you are personally responsible for doing that harm. Many people condemn the multinational corporations that in the interest of greed are destroying Nature and hastening our ultimate demise. We think that we, the helpless moral people of the world, are the good guys, and that the power-hungry corporations are the bad guys.
In case you haven’t noticed, we eagerly buy the goods and services provided by those corporations. Our money goes to pay inhabitants of poorer countries to destroy their lush forests so that we can fill up our homes with cheap and abundant food, furniture, clothing and contraptions. Since we only see the end product in the store and don’t witness our money going into the pocket of the logger wielding the power saw, we are blinded to the fact that we are personally responsible for denuding those forests.
We buy goods made in sweatshops in developing countries under conditions we would consider unconscionable. And we want those goods as cheaply as possible. Yes, we are individually responsible for the horrible treatment of other human beings. But we are conveniently unaware of it because we don’t personally hand over the wages to the sweatshop workers. We stand no chance of slowing down the destruction of our planet as long as we don’t realize that our money makes us active partners in the destruction.
No, money itself may not be evil, but because it so conveniently enables us to avoid cognitive dissonance, money’s pull to evil is so powerful.
When it Comes to Money, We are All Jews
Most stereotypes have some measure of truth to them. Otherwise they would not endure. However, this is not always true.
For many centuries, my fellow Jews have been insultingly characterized as money-hungry, stingy people.
As I reported in the last newsletter, 93% of survey respondents answered that they would like to earn more money than I do for remaining on their current job. I added the following question on my last run of bullying seminars: If you could buy the same item at full price or half price, which would you prefer? With only one exception, all of the approximately one hundred respondents answered – you guessed it – “Half price”! Yes, we all want as much money as possible and to give away as little as possible.
I hate to break the bad news to you, but when it comes to money, we are all Jews!
(I made a version of this joke at a recent seminar. One Jewish participant felt strongly offended. I apologized for hurting her feelings. I don’t think she realized that my joke was actually making fun of anti-Semitism and not Jews. In the future, I will try to make my point less ambiguously.)