For better or worse, money drives our lives. Let’s face it. It is for the worse. We may think that money is necessary and that it is something natural. It is not. Money is a human construct that is making our lives miserable. As Lynne Twist writes in The Soul of Money, some indigenous groups in Amazonia, like the Achuar, who have limited contact with modern civilization, live without money for ages and are just fine. Instead of money, they focus on community, family, working together, and providing for each other. If someone needs shelter, the whole community goes and builds it. If someone kills an animal, the entire community will feast. No payments required. It is about reciprocity, about care, about doing what is right not just for you but for the whole family and community. Unfortunately, it is the so-called civilized world that is pushing the concept of money to these indigenous groups. And with money comes all sorts of trouble.
Introduction of money
Once you introduce money to society, everything gets impacted. Every decision you make is driven by money. What you eat, what clothes you wear, what car you drive, what house you live in, what employment you seek, who you marry, how many kids you have, even what dreams and desires you have. These little pieces of paper have enormous power over our lives—the power we willingly give them.
Even if you pretend that money is not important to you, something I often do, you are not honest with yourself. Money may not be the most visible driver for you, but it is quietly sitting in the background, guiding your actions. You fear losing your job as it would impact your income and ability to keep your standard of living. When you get more money, you are going to spend more, and your life is going to change and rely on the increased income. The more money you have, the more you feel you need. The more you try to accumulate wealth, the more you become a slave of money. You may feel more successful, you may feel you are worth more than others, yet you feel you have to keep doing whatever it takes to keep your advantage. It is a competition. You are winning, yet, by getting more money, you are losing your freedom and your humanity.
Money is not natural. No other being on the planet has the concept of money. It is purely human invention. It is an inanimate object that we gave the ultimate power. We do terrible things to accumulate wealth. We would destroy the planet, mine its natural resources, decimate forests, poison rivers, and lakes. We would kill other human beings, take slaves, and ultimately become slaves. Many of us would lead miserable lives in the name of accumulating more money.
We teach our children to look at money almost like a religion. Accumulating wealth, either as money or other possessions, is the standard way to live our lives. We gather, we consume, we don’t consider what we truly need. All we care about is what we want. And we want more.
We acquire more things, we consume more things, and we don’t consider the impact on the environment or others. We don’t even consider the effect it has on us. We become shallow human beings—just a shadow of our true potential. We are slaves to money.
Mindset of scarcity
The focus on money created a mindset of scarcity. If you live in poverty, your conversations will focus on how to get more. You need food to survive, water to drink, a shelter. Money will be on top of your mind most of the day. Curiously enough, if you live a life of abundance and opulence, your conversations will also revolve around a lack of money. You will think about getting a better car, a bigger house, eating at fancy expensive restaurants, or going on exotic vacations. Even when you have your basic needs covered, you will still focus on what you don’t have. And if you don’t complain about not having enough money, you will complain about not having enough time. You don’t have enough exercise, you don’t have enough rest, you don’t have enough freedom. Money has turned our focus on what we don’t have.
We don’t consider what we do have. We don’t appreciate that we do have a family, friends, food, and clean water. We don’t appreciate these things. We don’t focus on them, so we often lose them. In the pursuit of money we don’t need, we lose family, friends, and even our health. Things that are truly important.
The pursuit of money leads to a life of excuses. Because of our need for more, we live unfulfilled lives. We give up on our dreams, and we compromise on who we are. The fear of scarcity makes our lives miserable. Yet, there are enough resources on the planet for everyone as long as we all only take what we need and no more. Unfortunately, money warped our sense of what we need. We believe we need things that we don’t truly need. Just compare your life with the life of a member of a tribe in Amazonia or Africa. You are both human beings. You have the same biological requirements to be kept alive. Yet, what you believe you need is radically different. You believe you need a big house, a car, a new phone every year, and imported food from all around the world. Guess what. You don’t need any of these things.
World of sufficiency
The indigenous societies that didn’t come into contact with money don’t have the scarcity mentality. They live in a world of sufficiency. They have just enough for what they need to survive. They don’t try to hoard more stuff, but rather protect that what they already have so it sustains them in the future. The indigenous people in various parts of the world protect their environment and only take what they need. They know that if they take more than what they need, they may abuse the nature, and the resources may eventually dry out. However, they don’t need to worry about it as it is their nature to live in accordance with their environment.
Lynne Twist talks about the mindset of sufficiency as the antidote to the scarcity mentality. She defines sufficiency as “an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough. Sufficiency resides inside of each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a conscious, intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances.”
The concept of sufficiency is a powerful one. It can help us to escape the crazy world of hoarding stuff, chasing money, and exploiting resources of every type.
The consumerism society is in direct clash with nature. Nature has limited resources. The notion of getting more and more simply doesn’t work. Sooner or later, you are going to run into a hard stop. The only sustainable way to live is to abandon the concept of getting more and focus on sufficiency. Get only what you need and no more. Not only that. Only get what you need with the expectation that every human being on the planet would get the same. If you feel that it wouldn’t be sustainable, then you are getting more than what you truly need. More is not better. More is not sustainable. More is you being selfish and irresponsible.
Flow of money
Lynne Twist suggests you look at how money enters and exits your life. Consider where the money comes from. Do you get it from your parents, work, spouse, investments? Is it coming through positive channels or negative ones, like the exploitation of fellow human beings or natural resources? If you make money for yourself, does it also help others to have better lives, or does it make their lives miserable? For example, as a doctor or a nurse, you may be paid to care about others. That is a positive way to make money. As an owner of a mining company in the third world, you may make money by poisoning the environment to poor people in Africa, taking away their livelihood, and ultimately killing them. A very unhealthy way to make money.
The same then goes to the way how you spend money. Do you spend it for the betterment of yourself and others, or do you spend it on hurting others? That is why there is so much conversation about buying products made by child labor or products with ingredients that require to burn down tropical forests. You can spend your money in a positive way. Or you can spend it in a very unhealthy way. You can make a difference.
The key to sustainable living is gratitude, appreciation, collaboration, and reciprocity. Once you switch your mindset and you start appreciating and sharing, you become part of a world where even though the resources are finite, there is enough for everyone. You can get the first glimpse in the sharing economy with people carpooling, time-sharing things they use only occasionally, volunteering, and collaborating on making the community a better place to live for everyone.
Spend money to nourish your inner life, to be able to do things aligned with your values, and focus on sufficiency. The sufficiency mindset puts constraints on things you will buy. That’s good. It is going to force you to think twice before you buy something. It will also allow you to save money, and therefore you will stop feeling the endless pressure on earning more and more. Step by step, you move from scarcity to sufficiency. You will learn to appreciate what you’ve got. You will stop chasing things you don’t have and focus on things you already have. You will switch from negative thinking and complaining, to positive thinking and appreciation. It will feel good.
What is your take on the topic? Do you believe that money brought more good or bad to the world? Can you imagine a modern society not driven by money? Do you believe there is a chance for civilization to focus on sustainability as opposed to consumerism? Would you be willing to do your part?
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