Thursday, July 02, 2015

Fourth of July, Freedom, and Money

[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 or Box 41834, Eagle Rock,CA 90041]

Over the years, I have given a lecture called “The Four Illusions of Money,” in which I share the many ways in which money controls our thinking and our actions. 

For most people, money is intricately and intimately related to every part of our life, and especially that nebulous thing we call “freedom.”

On our country’s Independence Day, it seems worthwhile to take a closer look at how we view money, and how it affects our independence and our freedom.

For starters, What is money, how is money created, what is the Federal Reserve, what is the IMF, how does international debt affect us here in the U.S.?  All good questions for you to research on  your own, which are at the very foundation of money and what it is and what it does – but that’s not what I’ll be discussing today.

OK, when people are queried, almost everyone says that they do not have enough money, and would like to have more. Everyone at all income levels says the same thing! 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:

  1. A lot of money will let me be free to do what I want to do.
  2. People with a lot of money command more respect from others.
  3. I need more money for my family.
  4. 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 the first 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. 

Not only do most people have no clearly-defined long-term goals in life, most of us have very different and conflicting ideas about this thing called “freedom.”

I propose that there are at least two sorts of “freedom”:  freedom-to, and freedom-from.  Freedom-to refers to the ability to pursue those goals, and do those things, that you wish to do, or need to do. Freedom-from can refer to simply escaping from a bad situation, like a civil war in your country, or trouble in your neighborhood.

Connected to this is the two sided coin of rights and responsibility.  Everyone wants their rights, but somehow the responsibilities are too often left untended.

I have observed that those individuals who willingly take on responsibilities (of all sorts) gain more and more rights.  Though this inevitably involves “money” in some way, it implies a mental state that has nothing to do with money at all. 

Let’s look at another of the Four Illusions.

Money is necessary for my security in old age.

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.

Learn to Produce
History has also taught us that those who learn to produce what they need, and then do so, are invariably more free than their neighbors who do not do so. There are exceptions of course, but those who grow their own food can then sell the surplus of what they grow for the cash to buy what they cannot barter.  In a famous discussion between Merlin and King Arthur (yes, I know I am stretching it a bit here), Merlin told his student that there would never be war if people chose to be self-sufficient.

The way to apply these simple principles tends to be complex, and always further complicated by politicians who are lost in their worlds of words.  Still, freedom to do what is right should be the goal of everyone, and certainly the goal of every American. It is why this country was founded less than three centuries ago. 

And despite all the bickering and fighting that still continues to this day over what the U.S. is and what it represents, I find that the best rule of thumb for guidance is the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

 [We’ve only begun to scratch the surface here.  A continuation of this discussion of money can be found in Christopher Nyerges’ “Extreme Simplicity,” book available at bookstores, Amazon, and]

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