The money culture that surrounds us can make it difficult to achieve contentment.
The problem is that we live in a world of “have more” messages rather than “be more” messages. If we want to live a fulfilling, contented life, then this is an area where we have to swim against the cultural tide.
Notice the Money Culture
The most important step in addressing the imperatives of our culture is simply to become aware of them. However, it can be difficult to see our own culture because it is made up of things we take for granted. The easiest things to see are the ones that are unusual: things only stand out when they contrast with their background. It is much harder to see things that blend in – thinks like cultural norms – precisely because they are normal and commonplace. It takes a certain amount of effort, courage and determination to see the ordinary rather than the extraordinary.
One way to become aware of your own culture is to see your own world-view through someone else’s eyes. We could, for example:
- Study history
- Learn a language
- Get to know people from other cultures
- Read widely
- Seek out other people who already live counter-culturally
Recognise the Money Culture
In my experience, some of myths often expressed in Western money culture include the following:
Money Culture Myth: It is All About the Money
Most people will tell us that there is more to life than material wealth. Despite this, however, the message “It is All About the Money” is a popular one, broadcast by our culture in all sorts of subtle ways:
- For most of us, the main reason we go to work is to earn money (~8 hours a day, 5 days a week)
- Most businesses exist to earn money
- Many of the most popular TV shows are about material wealth: “Who wants to be a millionaire”, “The Apprentice”, “Cash in the Attic”
- Virtually all the advertising is about having more stuff
- “Rags to riches” is a popular trope in TV shows and on film. (It is telling that “Riches to rags” is dominant amongst true spiritual giants such as Jesus, Ghandhi and the Buddha)
- Much of our conversation is about what we want, what we have, what a bargain it was…
- News publications and politicians seem to be obsessed by “the economy”
One of the most compelling examples of this message is Christmas: for many of our kids, Christmas is about the presents. And for many of us, it is about the shopping and the debt (which is partly why “peace and good will to all men” gets buried under “stress and grumpiness for all”.
Your life should be focused on people, not money.
Money Culture Myth: Your Wealth Determines Your Worth
Not everyone sees things this way, but this message is an undercurrent in many aspects of life:
- When someone asks, “what’s he worth”, they’re asking about someone’s financial situation
- Insurance companies put a price on every part of our bodies and our lives. In an increasingly litigious society, so do the courts
- People need fast cars, big houses and fancy clothes to feel important
- When we talk about someone being “successful”, we generally meant that they’ve achieve financial success rather than that they’re a great dad or a good friend
- People give up time with family to “better provide for” that same family
- In many people’s eyes, status and income go hand-in-hand
However, we’re important because of who weare, not because of what weown. And who we are is determined by:
- Our experience and skills – what we’ve done and what we can do
- What we’ve learned – how we think and create
- What we’ve shared – who we know and how we know them
- What we value – our integrity, our intentions, and our motivation
One blogger has put it like this:
A lot of people have the equation backwards. They do boring things so that they can have enough money to purchase what they think is extraordinary, and try to stand out that way. But it doesn’t work. We all know that status symbols are just symbols, and we instinctively try to peel back that layer of a person to figure out what they’re really about.Tynan
Money Culture Myth: You Are Poor
One of the most pervasive messages in our society is the idea that we’re somehow impoverished. This myth is particularly obvious in advertisements, whose sole purpose is to generate a sense of dissatisfaction that will seduce us into buying things whether or not we need them.
The truth is that, if we have adequate shelter, sustenance and a place to sleep, then we’re better off than a significant proportion of the people on this planet. We are not poor!
Money Culture Myth: If it Looks Good, it Is Good
One of the characteristics of a “have more” culture is an obsession with superficiality. The way things look becomes more important than what they are.
- We tell white lies to hide our inadequacies, we choose appearances over honesty
- We choose an expensive car over giving to charity, we choose appearances over generosity
- We buy fashion from certain high-street shops who are known for worker-exploitation, we choose appearances over people’s welfare
But is it better to look good or to be good?
Money Culture Myth: New is Improved
Have we noticed this trend?
- Young people are valued more highly than the elderly
- Advertisers sell us “new and improved” products
- People are encouraged to “keep up” with fashions and technology
This myth is powerful enough that technology manufacturers deliberately hold back advances in technology so that we buy two upgrades instead of one?
But the truth is, value has nothing to do with age:
- Older people have valuable experience (and sometimes they have wisdom)
- The old ways are tried and tested
- Style has little to do with fashion
Evaluate the Money Culture
Having become aware of the money culture, we are in a position to evaluate it. We will find that it has both good points and bad.
- Sometimes it is about the money. We all need a certain amount (maybe less than our culture suggests)
- Money has value – the time and energy we put into it
- Your sense of poverty may be real – but its root may be emotional or spiritual rather than financial
- Looks are not always deceptive – but they can be
- Sometimes new really is better – but not always
Respond to the Money Culture
The good news is that we don’t have to live by the values imposed on us by our culture. When we are unaware of the messages that we accept without question, we become enslaved to them. But, when your eyes are opened, we;re free to make choices. Then, we can choose which aspects of our culture that we join in with, which parts to ignore, and which parts to challenge. Once we have seen our culture for what it is, we begin to live intentionally.
Shape the Money Culture
Don’t forget that we’re part of the culture, too. Because of this, an interesting thing happens when we make a choice about how we live: we begin to shape the culture. When we become content with less in a world obsessed with more, we influence others to think the same way. Not only do we become greater, but everyone else does, too.
Image courtesy PublicDomainPictures.net.