It’s Only A Thing: The Toxicity of Greed and the Mindfulness of Generosity
“Money, get away. Get a good job with more pay and you’re O.K. Money, it’s a gas. Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.”
As an American- and not only that, but as a Californian- the first toxic words that come to mind when I think of money are “security”, “comfort”, “stability”. Obviously, these words are not inherently toxic, but they become so when we rely on money to manifest them in our lives. I was reading through the lyrics of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’, and I couldn’t help but become confused by the contradiction in their statements. First it’s as if the singer is personifying money and telling it to get away from him. But then the toxic thought of security through money comes back and he tells himself that if he just gets a good job with better pay, he can be safe and happy. It’s as if he is having this internal battle where he knows that money is not going to make him happy, but so much of what he has learned from the world tells him the opposite. He refers to money as a ‘gas’. I think this choice of words admits a lot about our skewed perception of the value of money. It lets on that money can be equated to a poisonous chemical that chokes and controls you. In many cases this is true because so much of what our world has become revolves around money. And whether it’s a bigger house, nicer car, better job, or fancier clothes, our desire for more money really boils down to one reality: we want more stuff. And we want to compare that stuff to other people’s stuff so that we either feel better about our stuff or we start working harder to earn more money to get better stuff. Do you see the vicious cycle forming?
The problem isn’t the stuff though. It’s the fact that we keep accruing so much of it- more than any human being would need to survive- and end up forgetting what it feels like to not be greedy. That’s the problem. But every good problem has a solution. And this one, I believe, is in the heart of every human being, dormant in some, flourishing in others.
“No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.” -Emma Goldman
In 2008, I was blessed enough to take a missions trip down to the Dominican Republic, a culture very unlike America. Where I stayed was pretty desolate, and the people there didn’t have everything they wanted. They often didn’t have their most basic needs met either. I met street kids who shined shoes for pesos. Some of them didn’t have parents, some of them were homeless and completely on their own. It was a humbling experience for fourteen-year-old me. I felt convicted because I knew how much I’d taken advantage of the blessings I had received just by being born an American. But I was also inspired by the humility of these people. They taught me the one thing that has stuck with me ever since. This is the one thing that has allowed me to break away from the chains of discontent. It is such a simple concept, and yet it is so hard to grasp for someone who is drowning in a hurricane of greed:
In More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, Jeff Shinabarger defines excess as “that thing that we could give away today, and it wouldn’t change a single aspect of our tomorrow.” We all know what it feels like to be so caught up with the stuff we have, that the only thing we can think about is wanting more. This circle of get more-want more-spend more is a tough current to fight, but I know for a fact that generosity is the one concept in humanity that enables us to free ourselves from its grasp.
When I was in ninth grade, I attended an end-of-the-year choir show at my high school, and I wore my favorite necklace at the time: a long silver chain with a turtle-shaped pendant. I literally wore this necklace everywhere, so it was no surprise that I had it dangling from my neck that night. Anyway, I got out of my seat during the intermission and went to the snack table in the back to get some coffee. The woman running the snack table was extremely cordial, and gave me a genuine smile when I approached her. It was like she really just enjoyed serving the people there, and that brought joy to my heart. As I was getting my coffee, she complimented me on my necklace, telling me how much she adored turtles. The way she talked about them was really sincere and endearing; I could already tell she was a very loving and thoughtful person by the way she talked about the things she liked. So, like anyone else would, I thanked her kindly, and continued putting individual cups of creamer into my coffee. I hadn’t even left the table yet, when I felt something compelling me to give her my necklace. Of course, my selfish human tendencies kicked in, reminding me of how much I loved that necklace. But then, a life-changing thought filled my mind:
It’s only a thing.
Almost immediately, I removed the hanging turtle from around my neck and asked, “Do you want it?”
The look on her face confirmed the fact that people nowadays are not really accustomed to generosity anymore. At that moment, I decided I wanted to see that look more and more often, on all different kinds of faces, until random generosity eventually it evolves into something less of a surprise and more of a normal, everyday gesture.
She said she couldn’t take it from me at first, but I insisted, and with that I voiced the words that appeared in my head just moments earlier. “It’s only a thing.” I smiled and thanked her for my coffee, assuming I probably wouldn’t ever see her again. But life has a funny way of bringing people together. It turned out that she was the mom of a girl I would become good friends with a couple of years later. We’ve become close friends, and we still share tea every now and then and encourage each other greatly. And years later, she still has that turtle pendant.
Opportunities for generosity can come in all forms, and they will pop up when you least expect them. The key is to submit to these opportunities. Let yourself be led by generosity, even when your first reaction is to counteract it with selfishness. You’d be surprised at how many doors will open up for you. Generosity paves the way for success, contentment, and prosperity. It teaches you to be mindful of those who have less than you, and at peace with those who have more.
Ever since I made the decision to be a generous person with my time, my stuff, my money, and my heart, I have been free from the false sense of security that money promises to provide. I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet amazing people, and more importantly, I have been fortunate enough to become one of the few friends in their lives that they feel comfortable opening up to. The depth of my relationships with people is more valuable than the money I have now, as well as the money I will have in the future. I don’t own money, and it doesn’t own me. It’s almost like an abstract thing that floats in and out of my life, and either way I don’t let it overwhelm me.
Nonetheless, I know that it is important for me to acknowledge that I would’ve never had this perspective on giving if I didn’t yield to the small but powerful voice of generosity, compelling me to love other people in the way that says, “I want you to have this, because I love you, and it’s only a thing.”
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