But Not Necessarily In The Way You Think It Does.
No spiritual ADHA today, so onward and forward with my summary of Charles Eisenstein’s book Sacred Economics–accompanied by personal commentary and examples, of course. The central question the author poses is, Why is money not usually treated as something “sacred,” and how can we change that?
By “sacred” the author does not mean an object of worship or anything religious, but rather something that is unique, i.e., not standardized or mass-produced, so that when we give it to others we feel connected to them and they to us, which in turn inspires feelings of gratitude and generosity.
Did you have to stop to process that last sentence? Me, too! Start over: suppose I am a talented cook, so on your birthday I bring you a homemade, gourmet meal of foods I know you love. Or…I could give you $50 in cash. In the first instance I have given you something of myself and my time, which indicates we have a personal relationship and I care about you; in the second, the bills I have handed you are like any other bills of the same denomination, mass produced at a U.S. mint, and you could go out and buy something that is also mass-produced. (Of course you could also buy something unique, but it would not reflect my relationship with you, because someone you don’t know made it.) In the first instance you feel moved and want to do something of a similar nature for me or someone else. In the cash scenario you thank me and may even feel some excitement about what you will buy. But will you be moved to generosity?
In life, money–whether it be in the form of cash, check or a credit transaction– is an oddity in that it has little value by itself; its main usefulness is in the societal agreement that it can be exchanged for something we need or want. Of course, in an emergency you can use a coin to pry open a lid, but under normal circumstances there are more appropriate tools. And what can you use a dollar bill for except to purchase something? (Someone is going to take this as a challenge and let me know.)
Money is the intermediary between you and what you need or want, which also makes it easier to rationalize its misuse. Here’s a true story to illustrate my point: I have a friend, let’s call him John, whose mother gave each of her three children an equal amount of money to keep for her care if she became ill. (Hey! This is starting to write like a parable–I like that!) When she was unexpectedly diagnosed with a heart condition and given less than six months to live, John contacted his brother and sister so they could place their parent in an assisted living facility with hospice care. Surprise! Both of John’s siblings had spent the money! Their rationale was, why pay for something if you can get the government to pay instead? Since their mother had very little money at that point in her life, she would qualify for Medicaid, they argued. Well, there are actually a couple of problems with this, in addition to one of children betraying their mother’s trust. First, in most states it takes a minimum of 40 days to process a Medicaid application, and secondly, Medicaid does not pay for hospice. Not to mention that private-pay facilities are far more desirable places to spend one’s last days than those that take Medicaid.
What happened to make these otherwise loving, moral children do what they did? Probable answer: money has become a depersonalized abstraction. John’s siblings would most likely have been happy to make or do something special for their mother, but until they become more aware, they will not view money as something that can actually enhance relationships.
The key words here are “become more aware.” This is the first step in changing our economic reality, so stay tuned. Next time: the inherent imperfections of a market economy, or it’s not you, it’s the system. (Or in some circumstances it’s both you AND the system.)