[Nyerges is the author of several books including “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and “Self-Sufficient Home.” He has lectured, taught, and led field trips since 1974. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com or Box 41834, Eagle Rock,CA 90041]
During the early 1980s, I participated in the monthly WTI Plenary sessions which were held in Highland Park. These were all-day events where participants shared accounts of specific research they had been doing. I had been giving presentations on money-related topics, such as “What is money?,” “What is the Federal Reserve?,” “What is the IMF,” etc.
The money-related lecture that stirred up the greatest emotional response was “The Four Illusions of Money.” I loosely based by presentation on an article by the same name that appeared in the winter 1979-80 issue of Co-Evolution Quarterly. The presentation and discussion lasted about two hours, covering many facets and dealing with the comments and objections from the audience. Here is a condensation of that presentation.
When people are queried, almost everyone says that they do not have enough money, and would like to have more. Furthermore, one of the most commonly-cited reasons given by people who continue to work at a job they dislike is to “make a lot of money.” The reasons that this is such a ubiquitous goal – to make a lot of money – can be summed up in the four following rationales:
- A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want to do.
- People with a lot of money command more respect from others.
- I need more money for my family.
- Money is necessary for my security in old age.
Yes, there are many more such “illusions” that dance around money, but these four seemed to fairly concisely address all the secondary and corollary illusions.
These four statements are illusions about money. That means, these represent false perceptions of the world. That is to say, when we embrace any or all of these four illusions, we are prevented from seeing the NON-monetary realities about our life and the choices that we make.
So let’s explore these one by one.
A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want to do.
One way to see through this illusion is to make a specific list of all your carefully-considered goals. These can be short-term and long-term goals. These can include travel, projects, achievements, possessions, skills (learning a new language), etc., but the list cannot include money. Money cannot be a goal. Next, you should examine the list you made and begin to delineate precisely how you can go about achieving that goal.
Yes, of course, money can help accelerate the achievement of the goal. Still, once your goals are clearly established in your own mind – and clearly differentiated from “passing wants” – you can steadily move forward, step by step, toward the achievement of that goal. Money is incidental to this process, and must not be allowed to determine the choices you make and the steps that you take.
A large part of achieving a goal – perhaps the most important part – is to learn valuable life-enhancing skills that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
And many of the essential steps toward a goal involve working with other people. Working with other people develops strong friendships and relationships, and this requires that you must be – or become – reliable and trustworthy yourself. This manner of pursuing and achieving goals should represent a true freedom from our enslavement to money, and should open you up to some truly life-enhancing experiences.
Remember, this perspective is offered as an alternative to “going out to make enough money so I can be free to do what I want to do.”
One of the amazing insights that I gained while sharing this at our seminar was how many people actually had no clearly-defined goals at all.
People with a lot of money command more respect from others.
This is demonstrably and abundantly false. There is no reason to believe that people with “a lot” of money automatically command genuine respect (in fact, they don’t), or that people with “a lot” of money command respect because of the money.
People who invite respect do so because of their personal qualities, talents, character, experience. It may be the case that these very qualities are the reason a person has been able to earn “a lot” of money. But money itself is not the basis for real respect.
How do I know this? Look at what happens to those who claim respect for someone when the money is gone.
And also just try the following experiment for yourself. Make a list of 25 people whom you respect. These must be people that you know personally and you interact with in some way, not just people that you know about from the TV or newspapers. Do your best to attempt to “score” how much you respect them, using a system for example of listing each from 1 to 100, 100 being the highest level of respect. Next, do your best to list the income (or net worth) or each of the individuals on your list. In cases of genuine respect, yo will rarely find a correspondence between how much you respect that person and how much money they make.
I need more money for my family.
All too often, people use this fallacy as an excuse for doing something they would rather not do. This rationale is especially typical of “bread-winners” who work extra hours and on weekends so they can pay for possessions and vacations that they believe their family needs and deserves.
If you are getting more and more out of touch with your own family members because you are spending more and more time away from them supposedly so you can provide something more for them, then you are falling for this illusion.
It would be far more valuable for everyone if these bread-winners instead spent valuable time with their family members, and finding a way to re-orient the job and financial choices.
Sometimes the most valuable time spent with one’s children is the time spent to teach and work with them to develop their own businesses.
As for the myth of “quality time” over “quantity of time,” don’t believe it! Your notion of “quality time” means very little to young people. The best way to have quality time is to assure that you have sufficient time together.
Money is necessary for my security in old age.
I had barely spoken these words in my seminar presentation when the groans and loud objections were voiced. Two men got into an argument over this point before I’d barely gotten started, and I had to tactfully break it up. Yes, we have a lot of baggage about money, and getting older doesn’t make this any better.
Money is needed in many ways, of course, but personal security, inner and outer, cannot be purchased.
The real security that is most needed by elderly can be enhanced by money, but it can never be built solely upon money. Inner security arises with the development of deep friendships, and with learning to be flexible and adaptable, for example, and these are not things that are in any way dependant upon money.
In fact, one of the best ways to “prepare for old age” is to become the type of person – inwardly and outwardly – that other people will want to be around and work with.
This means being competent, helpful, flexible, honest, moral, curious, always willing to learn and to share, generous, and so on. And note that none of these virtues are either the intrinsic or exclusive virtues of the wealthy.
Developing one’s character is clearly one of the best ways to prepare for the calamities that might strike any of us at any age, such as wars, depressions, social chaos, as well as a whole host of personal difficulties.
[A continuation of this discussion of money can be found in Christopher Nyerges’ “Extreme Simplicity,” book available at bookstores, Amazon, and www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]