How much money do you need? Recently someone told me that twenty million dollars was the current number being tossed around in a local football player’s contract negotiations. If you earned twenty million over a course of a few years, would you think that was enough? I’d hope so. But if the athlete is comparing himself to another player making more, it might not be.
No matter how much we earn, we always know of others in our field who earn more. And these comparisons lead to crazy-making thoughts and behavior. In “The Soul of Money,” global activist and fundraiser Lynne Twist says, “redesigning our relationship with money will be the key that transforms the condition of life, both physical and spiritual, for all of us in the twenty-first century.”
Twist thinks a lot about money, since much of her work focuses on ending hunger on a world scale. The belief that all resources, such as nutrition resources, are scarce, even though we know we pay farmers not to grow more food or to plow it under before it’s harvested, guides us to the conclusion that there is not enough food to go around. We worry we don’t have as much money or stuff as the next person. That accounts for some of the success of stores that sell products in bulk, which leads many of us to use our garages as storage containers for everything but cars. (If you looked in my garage you’d think I had anxieties about running out of toilet paper; honestly, the problem was not making a Costco shopping list…twice.)
Talk about scarcity brings to mind descriptors such as “fear, competition, greed, mistrust, envy,” winners and losers, successful and unsuccessful. In addition to fear of scarcity, another cultural belief we hold is that the more money we earn, the more successful we are. The more possessions we have, the more we identify with them. I remember as a child connecting with a pen pal in England. I started my first letter with a list of worldly goods, as in dolls, toys and pets. Years later, I’m thankful that my parents convinced me to come up with a different opening.
According to Twist, the opposite of scarcity is sufficiency, a sense that there is enough. “Sufficiency is a context we bring forth from within that reminds us if we look around us and within ourselves we will find what we need.” Words aligned with this perspective include “gratitude, fulfillment responsibility, resilience, and inner riches.”
One nice thing about retirement is that you no longer have to compare yourself to others, though sometimes we do. Admittedly, for some retirees, scarcity is still an overarching and legitimate fear. In my case, I have too much, which is leading me to spend time each day going through closets, cupboards and drawers looking for items to get rid of. It’s a harder job than it sounds. Today I came across a few zillion nylon stockings. I haven’t worn nylons for more than five years. Still, I ended up saving them. I can’t predict when I might get an invitation to Buckingham Palace, and I feel certain the Queen will expect to see me in stockings.
Nylon stockings are always mentioned in gardening circles as being great for tying up plants (they are soft, flexible, and “give” as the plant grows). I haven’t actually used any nylons in this way, but have saved old ones for such a use. I also have a good stock of new ones (actually years old) saved for some reason. Could I break out a new package of nylons to use in the garden? Not yet.
LOL. It’s the old, “I might need this some day” trap. I wouldn’t use my nylons to tie up plants either.
Your post reminds me of wisdom provided by my dad, probably triggered by some event similar to the one that prompted your parents’ admonition to start your pen-pal letter with something besides a list of possessions: “Own your things, don’t let your things own you.” I’ve always liked the saying because it isn’t an anti-wealth statement, but a statement about how to relate to wealth. My church also has a lot to say on this subject. One lesson I’ve worked hard to learn (it didn’t come naturally) is “both giving and receiving require an open hand.” Fear of scarcity is a wonderful rationale for holding on to everything we own, a practice that can become more and more penny-pinching and self-serving as we age. Open your hand, give away what you don’t need (and, my church would say, some percentage even above that) and the universe will simply find a way to fill your empty hand with something you do need. These are perhaps “First World Problems,” but you find references to wealth and our relationship to it all throughout ancient and modern literature. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Ann!! As always, you have me thinking.
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