Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Money And Us

Parsippany, New Jersey, USA

April 29, 2004

This essay, Money And Us, is the first in a group of ten on Money:
  1. Money And Us
  2. Give Me Money (That's What I Want?)
  3. Laurence Platt Video Interview III
  4. Exceptionally Rich
  5. Stake To Play
  6. Breakfast With The Master II: Future Finances
  7. Profit And Loss
  8. New Financial Order
  9. Really, Really Bad
  10. Standing Up To Gold
in that order.

Artwork by The United States Mint - Collage by Laurence Platt - Napa Valley, California, USA
"One Dollar"

Here you'll find no answers to questions about how to make money, about how to manage money, or about how to spend money. Regarding the latter, very few people have questions anyway. Rather, this is a cold, dispassionate look at how we are about money and how we are around money, whether you have too little, too much, or just the right amount.

It's said it's better to have money than not to have money. And because of the way the world is set up, that's probably true. Yet if you examine this assertion closely, you may notice there's not as much freedom, creativity, and spontaneity in it as there may first appear to be. We're survival machines. We want more. Just as the bee wants pollen, so the survival machine wants more. Wanting more money may not be a choice based in freedom.

We're literally crazy about acquiring more and having more. There's nothing wrong with this. It's how we're thrown to be as human beings. Don't accept this because I said so. Examine it for yourself and see if it's true. Regardless of what shows up when you examine how this is for you, I assert wanting more and examining wanting more presents a whole new vista against which to observe our relationship with money than wanting more and not examining wanting more.

We know money won't fulfill us. If it did, there'd be no unfulfilled rich people. You and I would be happy when we had money in the bank. Tell the truth: are you happier then? That's not a trivial question. I'm asking you if having money in the bank ever transformed an experience of being unfulfilled into an experienced of being fulfilled, deeply satisfied, and happy in a way that reached out, impacted, and really made a difference in the transformation of the lives of your families and of your friends and of the world at large. I mean, did it REALLY?

I've traveled through some of the poorest countries on the planet. I've lived in the Fiji Islands. I've explored, lived in, and worked in the Amazon jungle. The Amazon natives are, of course, human beings like you and I, yet they've never seen a newspaper, they've never tasted Pepsi Cola, they've never bought (or sold) mutual funds, and they've never scanned the printout from an automatic teller machine. And yet their glow, their integrity, and their deep, deep fulfillment and joy of simply being alive belies the fact they've got no money. It's disconcerting, actually, to get having money and all the time and effort we put into getting money doesn't necessarily fulfill us. It's even more disconcerting for me, a westerner with many of my values tangled up in money, to notice the Amazon natives, having no money, aren't unfulfilled.

Banks have money. Banks have lots and lots  of money. I believed banks were independently wealthy until one day Werner pointed out to me banks owe other banks enormous  sums of money. The Federal Government of the United States has lots of money. The Federal Government of the United States has an enormous amount of money. Yet the amount of money the Federal Government of the United States owes  is a sum so vast and so staggering that we can almost not comprehend how vast it actually is, so we prefer to not think about it at all. What it says about the entire system in which money occurs is almost unconfrontable.

I notice from time to time I stop distinguishing between who I really am and how much money I have - or I don't have. I may feel worse when I've got less money and I may feel better when I've got more money. I notice how my machinery renders me prone to forget who I really am from time to time, and every time I forget who I really am, the simple joy of just being alive eludes me. Being alive is then no longer sufficient, and I become convinced one of the reasons I'm not fulfilled is because I don't have enough money, never mind the fact that what's pocket change for me would make a beggar in India think I have croesan  wealth.

Well ... how much is  enough? Contributing to life and making a difference are distinctions which may - or may not - exist in the same domain as wealth. It's nice if they do (we all know that) but they don't have to.

It's in recreating the distinction who we really are  that the fulfillment and joy of living is re-invigorated. Making more money and having more money, while attractive, doesn't guarantee it happening. Neither does making no money or having no money (as in the case of the Amazon natives) preclude happiness. It's very, very clear to me when being around people like the Amazon natives or being around monks and nuns or anyone who has taken vows of poverty that fulfillment and joy don't require money. They may show up around money. And they may not. They don't have to. They're distinct, and I assert if you don't get this or you're unwilling to consider it as a possibility, then you're being inauthentic about money.

* * *

Throughout this inquiry I see again and again who I am is not my bank balance.

I am who I am and my bank balance is my bank balance. To get along in the world as it's set up today, I'm obligated as a matter of responsibility to manage my bank balance, as well as to make up new ways to replenish it. I'm equally obligated as a matter of responsibility to distinguish ongoingly between money (and my feelings for it and my reactions to it and my conversations about it) and who I really am.

You'll forget who you really are from time to time. As soon as you realize you've forgotten who you really are, you get it again. As soon as you get that you don't get it, you got it again.

That's very Zen. You can do that with yourSelf, but you can't do that with money. In making the distinction clear between the two, space is created to move forward with both. To be sure, money is a prize in this game called Life. And while the old adage tells us it's better to have money than not to have money, your creation of your experience of your own completion and your own fulfillment is your responsibility and your responsibility alone. It's distinct from, prior to, and doesn't depend on or require money.

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