I think most people assume that the biggest part of my job is to make sure people have “enough” money.
Actually, the biggest part of my job is to help people feel as if there’s “enough” money, because “enough” is very subjective; but no one wants to be on the wrong side of that assumption.
No one wants to be judged negatively, especially when it comes to money.
We humans are social creatures and most risks in life are not worth potential rejection, loneliness and exclusion. This fear of (negative) judgment is what motivates most financial (and, similarly, fashion) behavior.
To test some of your money judgments, answer a few questions:
1. I have money because:____________________________________________
2. I don’t have more money because:____________________________________
3. People who have a lot of money are:__________________________________
4. People who don’t have money are:____________________________________
Now, some of you may have responded that you have money because you work hard. But do you know anyone who also works hard and does not have money? I certainly do.
Likewise, some of you may have responded that people who have money are selfish.
Would you be selfish if you had more money? Paul Piff has studied this possibility; here are his findings in “Does Money Make You Mean?”
What do you think about someone when you realize they’re receiving financial assistance via welfare? (Isn’t it sad that what used to mean “faring-well” now means “dependent” because of our judgment?) I wrote about this topic here.
It’s human nature to judge; to form opinions, and to live by those sets of beliefs about life, people and situations. Left unchallenged, these beliefs could steer us in the wrong direction, especially when it comes to financial decisions.
This is what I think happens when we judge others:
1. We become aware of someone who we either like or don’t like.
We generally like people who are similar to us.
If we don’t like them, we declare them terrible.
This reaction is partially to confirm our own beliefs about ourselves that what we do and say (and wear) is right.
2. We find other evidence of the person’s terribleness and tell other people to find support for our case against him/her/them. This is a social construct (you see it all the time in every workplace, school and episode of “Survivor”).
3. We share our “observances” of people who “don’t share our values” (read: “are idiots”) in an attempt to let others know that we’re aware, we see what’s going on and nothing gets past us. In other words, we’re in the know and are not vulnerable. And we’d never behave/dress/talk that way. (Therefore, we’re better, we’re safe, you can trust us.)
We assume that certain traits follow a pattern and produce a specific result. Therefore, we stereotype people because of their jobs, their homes, the cars they drive, their tattoos, their weight, their religion etc. This contributes to group mentality (us against them) that can lead to further negative thoughts and/or actions. Does any of this improve our financial situations? No.
I believe we do this pattern-seeking as a means for survival; a way of determining things that are likely to result in a positive outcome (like going to college will result in higher earnings, right?) and other things that pose a threat and are to be avoided (like the stock market).
But life doesn’t always follow a pattern (I’ve written about that before, you can read about it here). Believing in a pattern, a stereotype or other outcome can fool us into false wisdom.
I watched a great TED talk by Michael Shermer called “The Pattern Behind Self Deception.” In it he talks about the human tendency to believe something (such as a conspiracy theory) or in something (a higher power, a totem/lucky rabbit’s foot) and the human capacity to find patterns even when there are none.
In his book, The Righteous Mind, author Jonathan Haidt gives many examples of how we humans subscribe to a belief system about many things (such as religion and politics) and can actually be cruel to people who do not agree with us.
Similarly, in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, we learn how all of us make a snap decision about someone in the blink of an eye. Some of us, thankfully, remain open to be proven wrong (for example, my best friend and I did NOT like each other when we first met our freshman year of high school, and the first date with my husband was not impressive – but thankfully the second one was).
If we are to make a concerted effort towards truth and wisdom, I think a good start is by being as humble as possible and always asking ourselves if there’s any possible way that we’re wrong about a person (including ourselves) or a situation. Once there’s a shadow of doubt, we can loosen our grip on our opinion/judgment, drop our arrogance, and leave our hearts open for the possibilities that await us in our journey towards wisdom.
Then we could consider how we may have contributed to a situation. For example, if you see a professional athlete behaving poorly while also spending lavishly, you can ask, “What have I done to enable this person to live this kind of life?”
Similarly, you could encounter a homeless person and ask yourself, “Could I be somehow responsible for this person’s lot in life?” You most likely are not personally responsible, but as a member of society, it’s a question worth asking yourself, since our financial outcomes are shaped by our communities, cultures, religious beliefs, and even environment.
If you really want to live a life that reflects your inner goodness, love, and hope, then you must let go of opinions masquerading as facts and start making financial choices that reflect your goodness, love and hope.
Do what you can.
Discernment will always be necessary in life to help us navigate our choices. Judgement and condemnation, on the other hand, are unnecessary and will only serve to perpetuate fear.
To suppose as we all suppose,
that we could be rich and not behave as the rich behave,
is like supposing that we could drink all day and stay sober.
~Logan Pearsall Smith