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Redefining Wealth and Excess

March 7, 2009

money_cartoon2$100 million in the hands of two different people means something entirely different.  The one who has the capacity to lead, organize, share and allocate resources effectively and without excessive self-interest, serves humanity.  The other is Bernie Madoff.  Like the accumulation, order and distribution of spiritual energy, money can be a powerful resource and force for Good.

The ancient Sufi mystic, Shams-e-Tabriz, once said “A single small silver coin given into the hand of a man of God is better than a thousand silver coins that come into the hand of a man who is fond of his nafs [ego].”  Shams added “The best of human beings is the one who most benefits others.”

Of course the ego of almost any man or woman will justify why they are deserving of the wealth, that their cause is just and that they will give to charity.  Have you ever gotten a creepy feeling from a major philanthropist, someone who gives a lot, but seems to have a condescending or overly prideful attitude about themselves?  It is not about how much one gives to charity.  Our “goodness” goes much deeper than that.

A British executive recent told me that people’s attitudes towards the wealthy in the UK is different than what it is in the United States.  I wonder if it’s true.  A New York accounting executive once told me, as we discussed global politics and the religious sensitivities of certain countries, that “Money is our God here [in the United States.]”  Sadly, I believe this to be true.  The recent market collapse and all that is starting to come out about Wall Street greed, the Madoff-type scandals, are naturally the results of the greed-driven psychology that is one of the major forces operating in America.

I think we Americans need new ways to define wealth that involve a more balanced view on what makes us successful.  Making money should not be our primary drive, nor should the amount that we have be the bar by which our success is recognized.

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