Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beyond Greed: Overcoming Acquisitiveness as a Measure of Success

I saw this tweet pop up this morning and it really hit me, right between the eyes.  In less than 140 words, the author has summed up what it means to swim in a capitalist sea.

In a capitalist system, we measure people by the size of their wallets.  We pay lip service to other forms of recognition, but in the end, the reality is that success is measured by money and the things that money can buy.
One of the big lies that most Human Resources departments tell employees is that "employees don't stay at companies because of the money, they stay because of the people they get to work with."  Well, perhaps it's not quite a lie, but it's certainly an obfuscation of the truth.  Employees don't stay only because of the money, but it's certainly a big factor.  Certainly big-time executives move between jobs when there is good money to be had, so why shouldn't regular employees do the same?

But salary is only one piece of the puzzle.  It's hard work keeping up with the Jones's.  The desire for a bigger house, bigger and more expensive cars, expensive furnishings, etc. can be very strong in our society.  Hell, I'm guilty of this desire for bigger and better as I type this on my 15 inch MacBook Pro i7with 8GB RAM and a 500GB hard disk.  I could just as easily do this on a $300 PC, but instead I have a $3100 Mac.  Why? Because I can.  Guilty as charged.  Now I can hem and haw about how much better MacOS is than Windows and how much better the Mac hardware is than the PC, but in the end, it's all just an obfuscation of the fact that I wanted the MacBook.  This psychology of wants and desires is what drives our consumer economy.  And what drives our ability to feed that bottomless pit of wants and desires is our financial success.

In the end, though, it is the things which own us and not the other way around.
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking” Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 AD) 
The pursuit of the capitalist ideals doesn't always lead to happiness.  Then again...
Arthur: Have you ever been on a yacht?
Linda: No, is it wonderful?
Arthur: It doesn't suck.
From Arthur (1981)

We are all slaves to our culture in one way or another. The trick is knowing it and knowing how to manage our relationship with the prime social force in capitalism: Money.

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