You’ve probably heard the saying “The love of money is the root of all evil”. It comes from the bible in 1 Timothy chapter 6 verse 10. It’s quite a bold statement, identifying a single cause as the root of evil. But is it true? and if so why?
I think to understand the statement we need to look at it carefully. It doesn’t say the love of good food is the root of all evil. It doesn’t say the love of fast cars is the root of all evil. It doesn’t say the love of houses, clothes, fashion, jewelry, holidays, entertainment, international travel or art is the root of all evil. It specifically identifies love of MONEY as the root, not these other things which we sometimes associate with money implying perhaps that it is possible to love these other things without it leading to evil – but not money.
Whats wrong with money?
So whats wrong with money? Well money is pretty useful in many ways, it is hard to imagine a means of exchange that would allow the for efficient movement of goods and services without some form of money, whether that be printed pieces of paper, chunks of metal, beads, or more recently recorded electronic data. It would be hard to obtain many of the wonderful things we have available to us today if we had to directly trade goods and services with each other for everything we wanted. I am not sure what Lenovo would want from me in exchange for this laptop I’m typing this post on, and I have no idea what I would trade directly with my internet provider for their services which I will use to upload this post to my blog. Money allows us to participate in exchange for a wide variety of goods and services whether or not the provider of those goods and services wants anything we can provide because as long as we can exchange what we provide what someone else wants we can use money as a common denominator and medium of exchange.
When you think about it, money is actually pretty wonderful, so what is wrong with loving it? I think the problem becomes apparent when we dig more into what money actually is. Essentially money is ‘made up’, there is no intrinsic value in the electronic bits of data that represent money for most of us today. If you try to eat it, you will gain no nutritional value. If you try to use it to protect you from the weather, you will gain no shelter. Money is an abstract representation of underlying value, BUT it does not truly have any value itself.
How does a money focus obscure or detract from true meaning and value?
I think when we begin to love money, we begin to separate ourselves from understanding and loving REAL things with REAL VALUE in our lives. Essentially we start to miss the point and love something that is not real which leads us no longer understand the true value of things.
There are many examples of this in life which are easy to identify and for us to understand.
When an artist decides that they will create their art with a primary focus on how much money they will make from it, most people consider that this in someway debases and devalues their art. It no longer has the depth of meaning, beauty and integrity of art that has been produced with some other primary motivation. A classic example of this are the Hollywood movies where the decisions have made by executives with only money in mind, they may still be quite entertaining, but they end up being a bit bland and generic compared to a film where someone has been allowed to express their own authentic creative vision. Somehow they seem to lack soul.
The extreme example of this would have to be prostitution where sex is bought for money. While this is becoming legal in more and more parts of the world, most people still consider that this cheapens the experience of sex as it becomes separated from emotions of love, commitment and so on. What physically takes place may be exactly the same, but because the motivation is money, somehow the meaning changes.
I think this general principle carries over into all areas of our lives. Whatever we do purely for money is somehow cheapened and not as highly valued as the things we do for some other reason.
Of course there is no reason why you can’t earn money from doing the things you love, and I think this is true of the happiest people in this world. They have found things that they love and feel good about doing, and found a way to be paid the money they need to get by in this world while doing it. But if you asked them why they do what they do – they would not say it is for the money. You might get answers along the lines of that they are following their passion, they like making a difference in people’s lives, it makes them feel good, they have a creative vision they want to fulfill and so on. In fact you would likely find that these same people would be doing the things that they do even if there wasn’t any money involved because they appreciate the intrinsic value of it and happily they also get paid to do it.
The problem comes when money becomes the prime motivator, and this can occur even in areas where the individual previously had a non-monetary motivation. When the focus shifts to the money, the value and meaning of the activity goes out of focus. This often results in people doing things they don’t really want to do – for money. They feel they just have to. How many people work at jobs they hate and which seem to have little meaning for them, but they do it for the money? It is likely that the job has value, and that they may even enjoy the job if they were able to reconnect with that value as their motivation; but the money focus takes the meaning out of it.
Also how many people would take food away from hungry people, or take someones house from them? Very few, when these things happen there is usually an outcry because people sense the injustice of the situation and do not wish others to be harmed. But how many people will allow someone to buy a product they cannot afford, or charge fees for services at a level that people who need them cannot pay? Many people do every day. Somehow the layer of abstraction and separation from meaning that money provides makes these things much more palatable as the effect on the other person is not as obvious.
And then of course there are those people who actively embrace their love for money and make it their prime objective. Are these people happy? They can seem that way at least for a while as they achieve a measure of success within their own definition. But what are the things that really make us happy in this life? The exact details are probably different for different people but I would guess there are a few common factors: good food, adequate shelter, good health, loving relationships with family and friends, a means of expressing yourself and believing that what you do has purpose and meaning. I think all too often those who put money as their goal find at some point that they have sacrificed one or more of things in their pursuit of money.
How do we overcome this problem?
So how then do we overcome a love for money? I think we need to connect or reconnect with the value and meaning of our actions. When we do this we are more likely to act with integrity, compassion and passion. I am sure that many people are able to do this within an ordinary job or payment system, but for many of us it is a real challenge as the constant need for ‘money’ even just to pay for the basics of food, shelter, clothing etc can cause us to take our eye off the real value of things.
Various religious orders have addressed this issue by swearing vows of poverty, renouncing all property and wealth and living only on the donations of others. In this way they can be sure that their actions are not motivated by money. These same religious orders tend to isolate themselves from the rest of the world so that they can concentrate on their prayer and meditation.
I think the ‘give freely, receive freely’ concept can give these same benefits without the same need for religiosity or isolation from the world. In fact it encourages us to engage fully with the world around us and focus on giving as much of value as we can to the people we interact with, but as we do not know what we will receive in turn, it helps us to keep our focus on the true value of what we are doing isolate this from the exchange of money which may or may not take place as a result of this.
I know for myself as I have begun to experiment with giving and receiving freely in my clinical work I have found that it is easier for me to focus purely on the client and the treatment they are receiving. I do not feel the same need to keep track of time, to make sure I don’t go overtime or equally to make sure that I fill the whole appointment time up so that they will get good ‘value for money’. Instead I am able to focus more on exactly what they need. If I have done all I feel is best for them at the moment and there is still time left, I don’t need to pad out the treatment – as they are only going to pay me what they want to anyway. Equally I no longer have to think of my ‘time as money’ and make sure the client doesn’t take too much of it either. Of course I still need to keep track of time from the point of view of scheduling and allowing the client to get to other appointments they may have as well, but not having a set price somehow removes this strong association between my time and money.
I really like that aspect of it. Time really isn’t money, it is far more precious than that. Removing money from the time equation makes each moment of life more alive and meaningful.
So is love of money really the root of all evil? I think there is a really good case for saying that it is, especially if you put it into context as robbing actions of their true meaning and value as the root of all evil.
Does this mean we have to forsake money and all the good things we can obtain with it in order to overcome evil? I don’t think so. I want the good things in life, and I think it is healthy to have them, money makes exchange so flexible I think it can make it easier for more of us to obtain those good things. They key is to find a way to be connected with the meaning and intrinsic value of what you do and not let the abstracted value of money take your focus away from what really matters in life and what really makes you happy.
I have painted a few things in pretty broad brushstrokes in this post. I may have got a few things wrong, and hey – I’m just new to this concept of exchange myself, I’m sure there is a lot more I will learn as I continue to experiment with it and my views on things may change. But what are your thoughts on this topic? Please feel free to leave comments below.