Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Greed Is A Terminal Disease

While intellectually, many of us know that anything taken to an extreme can lose its goodness, practically, our culture seems to have forgotten that this is so. While the Wall Street culture promoted the idea that greed is good, just as a person who lives on a diet of junk food will ultimately become seriously ill, too much greed for too long exacts a toll. This toll is felt by the greedy, the people taken advantage of or shut out from the food chain, and by society as a whole.

Bernie Madoff's uncontained greed not only led to his sentence of life in prison, but also to the suicide of one of his sons. Greed on Wall Street, in business, and in the political arena, has left countless people adrift, unemployed, homeless and displaced, without hope of any change in their circumstances. And the greedy who put so many people in such difficult positions turn their head the other way and watch their bank accounts grow.

We have example after example that greed is a terminal disease, and perhaps an addiction in our culture where success is measured in financial terms, not in meaning, contribution, and making a difference in the world. In his article, The Real Social Security, published in Ode Magazine, Kenyan microcredit bank managing director, Kimanthi Mutua notes that the only REAL social security is our collectiveness.

Mutua notes, "Centuries of individualism and materialism have destroyed most of this essential support structure in the West." We have no collective infrastructure to catch people when times are tough, and falling through the cracks of life is all too familiar a risk of hard times and forces beyond our control.

While Americans may look at Africans as residents of third world nations, emotionally and spiritually, America is a third world nation, or worse. The richness of daily connections with people, face to face, where people know and care for one another, cannot be made up through bonding in virtual reality. Mutua notes that in Africa, people connect in the daily reality of their lives. They naturally support each other, which builds an experience of community and compensates for the hardships of their lives."

Mutua notes as well that based on data from a World Value Survey, "most people in Africa do not report feeling less happy than people in developed nations despite being the poorest people on the planet. African is a living example of the fact that more money does not bring more happiness."

So, if we can stop looking at our own reflections in the narcissistic mirror that is so common today, perhaps we can look at ourselves through the lens of other cultures that may be more spiritually and emotionally rich than we are. As we are lost in the trance of working ourselves to death, and pursuing the American Dream, that a Psychology Today article notes has transformed into the American Nightmare, we lose sight of what really matters, and what we really need to survive.

Copyright 2011 Linda Marks

See "American Nightmare" in April 2011 issue of Psychology Today, and "The Real Social Security" by Kimanthi Mutua in the October 2007 issue of Ode Magazine for more.

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