A friend’s recent blog post resonated with my own thinking on how we spend our accumulated wealth. Often I meet wealthy clients with a very healthy and easy relationship with their money – it doesn’t have a hold on them. Other clients are afflicted by worry and a desire for more even though they want for nothing. Money isn’t a bad thing. Wealth isn’t evil. On the other hand, greed is a major problem in our society.
The blogger (Paul) quotes from a book by Jen Hatmaker called ‘7 – an experimental mutiny against excess’: Every time I buy another shirt I don’t need or a seventh pair of shoes for my daughter, I redirect my powerful dollar to the pockets of consumerism, fueling my own greed and widening the gap. Why? Because I like it. Because those are cute. Because I want that. These thoughts burden me holistically, but the trouble is, I can rationalize them individually. This one pair of shoes? Big deal. This little outfit? It was on sale. This micro-justification easily translates to nearly every purchase I’ve made. Alone, each item is reduced to an easy explanation, a harmless transaction. But all together, we’ve spent enough to irrevocably change the lives of a hundred thousand people. What did I get for that budgeting displacement? Closets full of clothes we barely wear and enough luxuries to outfit twenty families. What if all my silly little individual purchases do matter? What if I joined a different movement, one that was less enticed by luxuries and more interested in justice? What if I believed every dollar spent is vital, a potential soldier in the war on inequality?
Paul writes, ‘As a doctor, I’m inclined to think of medical analogies for things I’m thinking about. And so I’ve come up with a cheesy term for an illness I think many of us are suffering from.
It called diabetes materialis.
In case you don’t know much about diabetes mellitus. It’s a disease which results in high sugar levels in the blood because the pancreas either gets worn out and stops producing insulin or the cells become desensitized to the effects of insulin. When I was at medical school one of our biochemical profs had a phrase he liked to use when he was talking about diabetes. He used to say ‘People with diabetes are drowning in a sea of plenty’. What he meant was that the sugar is plentiful in the bloodstream but it can’t get to where it needs to go, so the body is effectively drowning in a state of abundance.
When I remembered that phrase, I thought of our culture which is obsessed with money and material things. I believe most of us have become desensitised to the excess that we live with. We have lost insight into the extent of our greed. We talk about the things we need when we have no idea what it means to really need something. We have lost the ability to distinguish true needs from wants.
More than that not only can we be unaware of the excess around us but we can be left unsatisfied and unfulfilled by what we have. And although we know (in our heads) that material things can’t satisfy the cravings in our souls we constantly look for more and more. So we’re drowning in a sea of plenty. And I worry that I am and that many us are often blind to the problem.’
Paul has hit the nail on the head. I meet so many unhappy and unfulfilled people, choked by worry and robbed of joy.
Each of us in the UK enjoys being in the top 1-4% of the wealthiest people in the whole world.
So the truth is the reality of our lives is very different from the reality for most of the rest of the world. The following statistics make this point all too well:
- Today 4,000 children will die from drinking dirty water or poor sanitation.
- One in eight people in the world do not have access to clean water.
- 2.5 billion people live without appropriate sanitation (defined as safe and clean disposal of human urine and faeces).
- Every day almost 16,000 children die from hunger related causes. That’s one child every 5 seconds.
- Throughout the 1990′s more than 100 million children died from illness and starvation. Those 100 million deaths could have been prevented for the price of what the world spends on its military in two days.
- The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world is well-fed, one-third is under-fed one-third is starving.
- 3 billion people in the world today struggle to survive on US$2/day.
- Half of all children under five years of age in South Asia and one third of those in sub-Saharan Africa are malnourished.
- To satisfy the world’s sanitation and food requirements would cost only US$13 billion – what the people of the United States and the European Union spend on perfume each year.
And closer to home:
- In 2008/09 in the UK, 13½ million people were living in households below the low-income threshold. This is around a fifth (22%) of the population.
- Almost 3,000 people in England and Wales will die this winter because they cannot afford to heat their homes (reported in the Guardian in October 2011)
Makes you think doesn’t it…
I don’t have the answers. But I’m keen to explore this and challenge my own lifestyle.
True financial planning should give you a healthy relationship with your money – as I’ve written on our website’s home page, I want you to be in control of your money, not the other way around. I’ve found that more often than not, fear and greed around money stems from worry that you won’t have enough. We remove that doubt and worry about your future financial position and give you the freedom to enjoy today. For those of you who want to give money away check out a new project called Everyone Gives.
As always all comments welcome.
By David Gibson