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Top 3 tips to control our own greed

02 Jan 2014

Greed, by its nature is the pursuit of an inauthentic self, and therefore a great drain on our energy. Many greedy people wouldn’t describe themselves as greedy. Though there are notable exceptions but most of us believe we deserve the wealth we earn.  But greed, defined as the pursuit to acquire more than we need, requires us to understand exactly what we need to be satisfied and learn to live with this. A sage person would say that it’s not about getting what you want but wanting what you’ve got. This may sound naïve to many as it fails to account for ambition and success, the result of which may bring us more than we currently have and earn. However, if our work is driven purely to gain ever increasing amounts of money and to feed our ego this without self constraint and integrity will fuel greedy behaviour in the form of disloyalty, theft, betrayal, manipulation, dishonesty, and in its crudest sense, violence.  

“It is perhaps time now to admit that we did not learn the full lessons of the greed-is-good ideology. And today we are still cleaning up the mess of the 21st-century children of Gordon Gekko.”

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd speaking in the aftermath of the 2008 banking collapse was, of course, referring to Michael Douglas’ infamous fictional character from Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street. Pantomime baddies, like Gordon Gekko, Dick Fuld and Sir Fred Goodwin, are figures of derision because their sole pursuit has been painted as the pursuit of excessive wealth, power and status. There are no outwardly altruistic motives to their dealings; all is driven by ego, which at its source serves to pleasure oneself. It’s driven by a hoarding mentality, which at its source is the belief that there’s not enough to go around. Sharing in fact deducts from our share. It’s a poor man’s mind set because it’s short term believing that tomorrow will not be as good as today, money could dry up so best wheedle out of others, our employer or clients as much as we can as soon as we can. As greed is unconstrained, you can never have enough and you can never be satisfied. Greed is also driven by comparing ourselves to others, wanting what they have, and when mixed with egotism this creates one-upmanship and a desire to have more than others. It means we’re in a constant battle with everyone else. Everyone is our competitor. So greed in essence is destructive. Entrepreneurs often say it’s not about the money it’s about being number one. Both have the same affect, which is that for us to succeed others must not – a subzero game mentality. Like some professional sportsmen, it’s about ‘doing whatever it takes to be first’ regardless of the consequences or of others. ‘I’m not in business to make friends.’ ‘It’s a dog eat dog world.’ These too are used to rationalise what people know to be unethical yet for some acceptable behaviour. What’s more, by serving ourselves we can never seek to learn from others. Only by helping others express themselves and grow spiritually can we learn from them yet this takes a special person, especially in business.

Even if we show integrity and don’t succumb to greedy behaviour we may still suffer from greedy thoughts, which like white noise, badgering us to see desires as ‘must haves’ like those Italian hand-stitched brogues, that dress, the latest mobile. Consumer goods that were once seen as luxury items – DVDs, dishwashers, cars, overseas travel – are now commodities, basic human rights in the west. What we can come to expect has been clouded with what we really need (like Goodwin allegedly redecorating the lobby outside his office with a £1,000-a-roll wallpaper because someone had made a minuscule stain on one surface, and twice changing £100-a-square yard carpeting in two vast boardrooms because he “didn’t like the shade of amber”). It’s well-known amongst the supermarkets chains that working mothers, guilty at there absence from their children, buy branded rather than own label goods. And for parents unable or unwilling to provide the time to love their children adequately they compensate by showering them with toys, but ironically, this overindulgence teaches the child that fulfilment can be found from material good rather than from a loving relationship. Indeed, as adults, it is the intimacy and love not the toys that we remember and shape us. 

At what point do we stop chasing the mirage of happiness through the accumulation of goods, of higher status or power? For like a dog pawing at it’s reflection in a puddle we can never hope to cage or conquer capitalism. And while consumer society may encourage us to sit back and relax while we’re being lightly grilled beneath the sunbed subconsciously, rattling around our heads, are our desires willing us back into the fold to upgrade, spend and earn ever more.  Ultimately, greed adds to our stress levels and drains our energy pot. Most goods we buy add to the ever growing pile of litter, which increase our stress levels and hide our true selves. So when is enough enough? By thinking about whether the material wealth and status we seek is actually helping us be us, and by reassessing what we actually need life will invariably become simpler, less stressful, and landfill sites emptier.

How to overcome greed

  • Stop comparing yourself with celebrities wealth

With average earnings of £24,000 per year across the UK (source needed) reading newspaper reports about the vast sums celebrities and businessman earn can be disheartening: 19-year old Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe making £26 million in 2009 making the Harry Potter movies; the footballer Renaldo earning £500,000 per week; or Bill Gates’ personal fortune of $67 billion. The fact is that newspapers love reporting on anomalies for the simple reason that they make good headlines, and it is not reality. A small population of extremely wealthy people exist, and have always existed, in all modern cultures (including socialist and communistic states), so we’d be better served by spending our time thinking how we’re spending the money we have rather and what it can bring us rather than dreaming about what vast wealth might buy us. Are we spending what money we have wisely – is it spent or invested in honouring our values on things that matter, or fritted away trying to impress others and conforming?

  • Stop determining worth by wage  

At cocktails parties the stock question “What do you do?” serves to help us place a person in a society, and with it determine his or her wealth. If you then determine that person’s worth by whether you think they earn more or less than you, you’ll only serve to dehumanise people by considering them as money-making machines.

  • Develop an abundance mentality

Greed and abundance are opposites. If greed is in part driven by a fear of limited wealth then if we cultivate an abundance mentality we can become free from greed. If we become free from greed then the air of desperation that follows on the greedy person tail will be replaced by a relaxed, more authentic aura, by someone who sees opportunities not as a chance to line their pockets but by a chance to grow and to help others.

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