We Americans love money. So many aspects of our culture are set up to reinforce the idea that the most successful person is the one with the most money.
Last night Mary and I went and saw a new movie which truly reinforces this cultural pattern. The movie was called “Race to Nowhere” and is a commentary on our educational system. The filmmaker was a mother who had become concerned over her children’s stress caused by excessive school expectations. I highly recommend the film.
Here’s a quick summary. Our culture measures success by wealth. We believe (although the film points out that it’s not quite true) that a college degree from a prestigious school leads to a higher income. Competition to get into the best colleges has led to these institutions accepting only a fraction of applicants, the ones with the highest GPAs and best portfolios of activities from high school. This has led to high school students taking more AP classes to raise their GPA and doing more extracurricular activities to build their portfolio. This competition has cascaded down into the lower grades and even into kindergarten. Parents, teachers and students have gotten on a treadmill that has led to more homework, less free time and more stress – all to ensure they don’t get left behind in their race for “the good life”. Coupled with the increased emphasis on only “teaching to the test” which drives school funding, we are creating adults who know how to memorize facts but not how to think or reason.
The movie ends with a bit of hope. It offers some examples of schools seeking to teach the “whole person”. It provides a number of suggestions for ways we can retool our educational system so that it will produce well-rounded and happy students. One idea mentioned was to do away with external grades as a measurement of success. In their place it asks why not gauge the student’ s achievement by a portfolio of products they produce to show what they have learned or by gauging their happiness? One telling comment which points out how difficult this will be was made by an author who writes about reforming our schools in this direction – he admitted that even he sometimes stresses over what schools his kids will get into. It’s tough to buck this cultural trend.
The movie reminded me about what I see as our confusion over what money actually represents. Most Americans who are chasing wealth see money as this “external thing” which the more they accumulate, the happier they will be. It is true that a certain level of money allows us to meet basic needs and desires. But at a certain income level we reach a point where more money is not really needed. At these higher levels of personal income, more money is only serving to allow us more luxuries and to feed our competitive sense that we are more successful than others. It doesn’t really make us happier. In fact there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that an obsession over money can actually make us more unhappy.
We chase stuff outside us. I want external higher grades so that I can go to external better schools so that I can get a better external job that pays me more external money so I can buy more and more external stuff. We look “out there” for happiness when the reality is it comes from within.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with money. I am suggesting we change how we look at it. Rather than seeing it as this external stuff we are trying to get more of, let’s see it as an energetic flow of life. It is “currency”, flowing like a river through and around us. It provides a means for us to enjoy this life experience provided we don’t try to cling to this energetic flow so that it stagnates. We bless it as it moves through our lives.
I love how Eric Butterworth puts it in his book “Spiritual Economics “. He says,” money is an enabling symbol. It is a tangible representation of intangible universal substance… Money is an enabling symbol that gives rise to faith and trust, credit in cooperation, which starts a flow of activity.… It is a currency or creative flow of divine activity.”
The point is – if we can change our perception of money from this external thing we are chasing to seeing it simply as a tangible representation of the flow of energy in our lives, then we can become less hung up on “having more money so as to have more happiness”. Must they be linked? No. Your happiness is your choice, it’s not dependent on having more money.
Which brings us to “love”. We’ve all heard the expression “money is the root of all evil”. Of course, the correct quote is “the love of money is the root of all evil”. On the surface, this statement implies the more we have this “emotional desire” to accumulate this external thing “money”, then the more we are inclined “to do bad things”. But if money is not this external thing but rather an energetic flow, maybe we had better stop and consider “what is love?” and “what is evil?” We will see some interesting parallels in part two of this article next time.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!