It is likely that many of us have heard the adage that money is the root of all evil and that it can’t buy us love or happiness. Although it is all too common that we look up to people who make a lot of money and look askance to those who are “down on their luck.” We can ogle rock stars and watch reruns of The Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous while perusing the tabloids for the next celebrity who takes an emotional or financial tumble. Yet most of us have had checkered histories with money. We’ve loved it and hated it. Saved it or squandered it. Felt desperate to possess it or confused about it. There’s no real denying our tumultuous relationship with money.
What really is money? Is it only a piece of paper upon which we have bestowed special significance—a totem of sorts—or is it something more? According to John Randolph Price in The Abundance Book (1987), “You must think of money and any other material desire or possession simply as an outer symbol of the inner supply.” Is money good, evil, or is it merely a form of energy that is neither good nor bad but neutral? To quote Jonathan Robinson in Real Wealth: A Spiritual Approach to Money and Work (1998), “Money can even be the root of all the good you do. It all depends on how you use money and what your relationship to it is. If you want, you can use money to buy an ounce of cocaine and fry your brain. On the other hand, you can use money to take spiritual-growth workshops and contribute to people in great need. Money is simply a magnifier of you and what you find truly meaningful.”
We can look at successful people in our society and what they do with their money. Certainly, many of them aggrandize themselves and live lavish lives, but there are those who use their money to create good in the lives of others. To name a few, Paul Newman has created a company, Newman’s Own, which gives 100% of its profits, after taxes, to charity. Dolly Parton has been active since 1995 in helping children become and stay interested in school. Barbara Streisand champions environmental projects and is a dedicated Democratic fund-raiser, giving away large sums of her own wealth. Ted Turner has created the United Nations Foundation, with a commitment of up to $1 billion. This foundation works to promote a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world through support of the United Nations and its Charter. And let us not forget Bill Gates, who gives to global health, education, libraries and other projects through his foundation. We can create great good in the world or cause great harm with our money. Ultimately, it’s not our money making the decisions. Since what we do with our money is a reflection of who we are, it’s imperative that we take the time to explore ourselves and our values if we ever hope to be truly abundant, successful and responsible.
Not only do individual people behave either malevolently or benevolently with money, the same holds true for corporations. Even though corporations are usually seen as malevolent in their willingness to do anything to make money, including using slave labor, cruel animal experimentation, air and water pollution, they can act in benevolent ways if they so choose. Take the case of Interface Inc, a large carpet manufacturing company run by Ray C. Anderson as seen in the movie, The Corporation (2004). Ray describes his vision for corporate benevolence as, “If we’re successful, we’ll spend the rest of our days harvesting yesteryears’ carpets and other petrochemically derived products, and recycling them into new materials; and converting sunlight into energy; with zero scrap going to the landfill and zero emissions into the ecosystem. And we’ll be doing well, very well, by doing good.” Not surprising, Ray is recognized as one of the world’s most environmentally progressive CEOs, has won numerous awards and has gone on to train other CEO’s in corporate responsibility.
On the opposite hand, there are plenty of wealthy people and corporations who are bad examples of how to use money. Many people put their entire fortune in huge mansions and toys while forgetting to give any to people and causes that need help. And how about the Fortune 500 companies who pay Third World laborers a dollar a day and then turn around and sell what these people produce in affluent countries for top dollar, only to pocket the profits. In my opinion, the majority of wars, even those disguised as religious wars, are fundamentally economic. If everyone in the world were paid a fair wage, there would be no real reason for war. With a fair and equal distribution of wages and the freedom to make choices with our money and our lives, war would soon become an unpleasant cultural memory.