Is Money Really The Root of All Evil?

"The Root of All Evil" by artist Dan Tague.
“The Root of All Evil” by artist Dan Tague.

Today’s Lesson: People, not money, are the root of all evil. We are the root of all good as well. Each decision you make each day contributes to your being part of one or the other. So before you decide to pay for something (metaphorically or literally), decide which side you are on.

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“Money is the root of all evil.”

If a man tells you this, run away for he understands neither evil nor money, or chooses to be willfully ignorant of both. Whichever it is, his intention is not to contribute to your Life.

Money is not the root of any evil. Money does not corrupt. Money has no inherent morality, desire, ethical premise, or secret agenda. At its core, money is paper (or digital code) with a mutually agreed upon value. It only exists as an agreement between the values of two people. If the value is not mutually agreed on, then money has no value to either side of a transaction.

Those who disavow the use of money are likely the same people clamoring for promotions in their careers and overspending their financial and moral credit. They scrabble for every dollar while cautioning you of the evil money poses in their world.

The truth is money does not care about evil. Money does not care about you or the people who claim money is the root of evil. What money does is allow the freedom for a man to show, in concrete terms, his own benevolence or malice.

Money brings out whatever was there already. Money provides Man with the means to take action on his own moral standing and trade his brute strength with a bludgeon for mental prowess and calculated risk. Money transforms bloody battles over property with clubs, stones, teeth, and claws to respectful, peaceful exchanges between two factions. It is an exchange of respect instead of fists.

I think money is one of the top ten greatest inventions in human history–an agreement among people that frees us from a crude system of barter. Without money, what would you trade for your smartphone or video game console–wool socks you knitted yourself? If you were lucky enough to have raised sheep? And if the guy with the smartphone did not already have sheep, or socks?

Only with the power and agreed upon value of money, created by and dependent on the will and honor of men, have we been able to rise from a feudal past to a glimmering future where nearly every person who wants to can own a car, a place to call home, and a way to communicate with the world.

If someone tries to sell you the idea that earning value by trading your time and effort to seek your own enjoyment in life is evil, then you can only respond properly by giving that person directions to where he can find the supporters of his notion:

“Go to hell.”

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((If you want to read the best speech ever given about money and what inspired me to write this post, read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Or, for the short version, click here to read the speech given by my favorite fictional character of all time, Francisco D’Anconia.))

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Productivity is Helped by Coffee (Houses)

Here is a quick and easy way to bump up your productivity!

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I can accomplish a lot at home but I am prone to allowing distractions get in my way. When I really want to focus and ensure I complete my assignments, I have one sure-fire way of making sure I do. I grab my Chromebook (Chromebooks are great because they are cheap, lightweight laptops with about a 12-hour battery life) and head to a local coffee-house.

For five to ten dollars–the price of a couple lattes or cups of tea, I basically rent space in an environment with mellow background music (that I do not have to worry about DJ’ing), decent people watching when I need a break, and maybe most importantly, caffeine-infused air! I hunker down, connect to WiFi, and enjoy the smell of espresso and the sound of ambient music without being distracted by my cat barfing, or trying to pick music, or noticing my desk needs dusting, etc.

I will procrastinate for nearly any reason I can conjure sometimes, but when I am serious, you might find me at one of my favorite latte shops!

 

Today’s Lesson: Sometimes the best way to get work done is to just get out of your office or house.

 

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Get Out Of My Way!

 

Sometimes the best way to help your team is to simply get out of their way. As a team leader, my job (my actual job, not the job description) as I see it, is to be there to remove obstacles when my people believe they are stuck or being prevented from doing what I have asked them to accomplish.

These obstacles can be political–such as being blocked from having needed resources by another team’s department head; philosophical–such as not knowing how to handle an employee morale situation, or sometimes even physical–such as getting my hands dirty and helping to take out the trash or clean the back room).

This year, I realized the senior team members I lead are pretty well-developed. I am lucky enough to have a well-oiled machine of leadership. I have veteran performers that know my style, understand my methods, and are able to take any ball I throw to them and run with it. I don’t have to be there, standing behind them, shadowing them in case they slip or fall. It was oddly difficult, though, to come to that conclusion. I only recently realized I have trained them well and I am now sometimes the obstacle that needs removing.

When you have a capable and confident team (or team member), take away the training wheels.

Trusting the people I trained to achieve the results I commission from them actually frees me up to focus on (or create) other important tasks or new goals to drive the whole team forward.

When you have done your job as leader, recognize your accomplishment and welcome your most accomplished team members as peers that can help move the next mountain instead of as novices still learning to climb hills.

Sometimes the best thing you can do to help your team win is to just get out of their way and let them.

 

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How to Live Heroically

 

I have been thinking a lot about heroes and heroism. Many of us look up to heroes (whether real-life heroes or comic-book superheroes) but forget we have the capacity to live heroic lives ourselves. Some people, though, seem like they can not help but live heroically. You probably have a friend who always seems to know the right direction to take in a  morally ambiguous situation, or someone you know will hold you accountable for keeping your word or is a person who simply will not lie. Heroes are the people we know we can count on, the ones who will risk something like looking bad to everyone else to stand up for something like truth or having integrity.

Heroes are willing to risk something to stand for something.

I think most people have some heroic traits but do not put a lot of thought into developing moral fortitude or a personal philosophy. Most of us are not intentionally villainous; we just fall somewhere in the middle. The problem with falling somewhere in the middle, though, is the default becomes a compromise. Ayn Rand, my favorite thinker and author, wrote in Atlas Shrugged, “In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit”.

We sometimes try to justify bad choices by claiming moderation–“Well, just one little _____ won’t kill me or get me in trouble” (put whatever you want in the blank: piece of cake, cigarette, kiss, etc.). The problem, as my heroic friend, Phillip, points out, is that it’s like saying “Well, just eating a little bit of rat poison won’t kill you. It’s just a little rat poison…” I think heroes tend to see things that way–putting choices in stark terms rather than trying to find the shady gray areas that allow us to get away with whatever our impulsive side fancies.

You must have a personal philosophy to think and act heroically and it can not be just the one handed to you, for example, by your family’s religion. Heroes innately consider questions of right and wrong, weigh the value and outcome of their choices against the impact the choices will have on others or the world, and then take action within the boundaries of their own moral standards. They may have initially been guided by an outside philosophy or religious tradition (“Thou shalt not steal”), but at some point they learn to internalize a moral code of their own (Thou shalt not steal because… it is unfair to take something of value without earning it).

To begin thinking heroically, you must ask whose moral code you are following and what drives your actions when faced with a question of doing the right thing? Hint: if your answer is, “I do what feels good,” then you are not making a moral judgment or following a path of heroism. This does not mean your decision is necessarily wrong, just that you have no ethical base to decide from. You are not the one in control; your feelings are.

There is so much more to living a heroic life but this seemed like a good jumping off point. If you want to be more like your heroes (hopefully, you have good heroes; I’ll talk about how to choose them in an upcoming post), then a good first step is to think about how you think about your decisions and consider what consequences your actions have on others before you take those actions.

 

What do you think? This is my first stab at trying to explain this, so tell me if you think I am spot on or way off or if I need to expand a part of it. Don’t forget, you can leave a comment, send an email, or respond via social media.

Or just go out and do something heroic today and tell us about it.

 

 

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Why I Stopped Celebrating Birthdays and Holidays

I understand why people like me are perceived as cold and insensitive for having strong moral fortitude. It is not always easy for me. However, it is, I think, the burden of becoming Human—of seeing something which others choose to ignore because it is less difficult to live a dictated life than a consciously chosen one.

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HAPPY(?) BIRTHDAYS

Birthdays are an obviously ubiquitous ritual most everyone accepts (or even demands) conformity to, but I rarely meet people over 30 who authentically look forward to birthdays and growing older.

We complain about the stress of gift-giving (for birthdays, weddings, Christmas, bar-mitzvahs, etc.) while at the same time we are told holidays are joyful, merry, and happy. I know I am not alone in saying it is often difficult—maddening—to find a gift for your parents, in-laws, or spouse. There is fear of judgment, criticism, or suspicion of false platitudes. Will they really love the gift? Is it the right size? The right brand? Are they going to think you are cheap? If you have not spent “enough”, will they worry you are in financial trouble or think you are ungrateful for all they have done for you? If you spend too much, will they feel bad about their (cheaper) gifts to you? Will they return the gift or tuck it in a drawer never to be seen again, or will they feel obligated to display the gift in case you visit? Do they already have this gift, or did you buy them the same thing last year? Did somebody else already think of this gift and beat you to the punch?

Children and young adults aside, I think most people are not particular to holidays. I have often secretly resented having to stretch my budget for gift-giving to friends, the children of friends, my family, in-laws, co-workers, bosses, etc… It can be made worse when several holidays or birthdays occur in the same week or month (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s is a quadruple whammy to the budget for many families). I have dreaded my own birthdays for the stress I know they have afflicted on others (budgetary and otherwise), and knowing my gratitude can not match their sacrifice. Let’s face it. If I was that excited about a gift, or if it was that important to me, then I probably would have bought it already.

 

OFFICE PARTY

Consider the office workers who either barely know, or barely like, their boss but are inclined to pander compliments on birthday cards filled with generic non-substantive prose (“Have a great one!”; “Happy B-day!”…even though the card already implies that…, or my favorite—the simple, nondescript signature of someone whose face will not be remembered when the card is dug out of a box ten years later). I know some people will protest, but I firmly believe the boss does not really care about the office gift, the office party, or getting older as the life he dreamed of disappears into the career void he probably accepted over following his dreams. The employees, mostly, do not really care either. Employees are pressured to share their money for a collective gift that will likely be unappreciated, except in false graciousness by the boss—“Thank you everybody; I have always wanted a…one of these… things. That’s exactly why… I… never bought one.”

It seems trite to point out the money the employees pitched in was earned by sacrificing time out of their lives to pander to the whims of the boss and his peers. That is not gift enough?!? Are we bosses so vain we require a material token of worship on top of taking their very lives from them? I do not accept that or want it over my head. I do not want gifts from my employees. I employ them to make money for me in exchange for helping them make money for themselves. It is insane that I should then expect them to spend their money on me.

I am sure many employees who are genuinely friends with their bosses do give thoughtful gifts. The same is true of family and friends, but it is, to me, shameful this sort of obligatory worship is required on top of whatever we do to express gratitude, camaraderie, or kinship every day. Setting aside that holidays like birthdays should be deeply personal and private affairs, why should anyone else know (or care) on what day I was born? It is really only a matter between me and my parents–and frankly, I am not that interested to be reminded each year of how I came to be born.

I say by conforming to the ideology of birthdays and holidays, we let a very large and out-of-control media machine dictate how we live our lives.

 

Celebrating birthdays and holidays obligates me to allocate time for Love and Family the same way I make time for tasks such as laundry and buying groceries. Should I let Hallmark and Walmart mandate when and how I show affection or appreciation for others? Should I let a national jewelry chain declare how much money sufficiently shows my love for my companion—is it 3 months salary? If I only spend 1 month’s salary, does that mean I only love my mate one-third as much as I should?

This system of blind tradition diminishes precious time to being no more than mandatory social proceedings. I resent being told when and how to love others, and how much is an acceptable amount of my hard-earned money to spend on someone. I resent being told how much time I am expected to spend proving my love in worship of other people. Why should I celebrate a birthday instead of a birthmonth or a birthyearMaybe I can decide how much time I wish to spend celebrating somebody’s life, on my own, and why on earth would it only be one day, once per year?

 

In short, I resent assumed control of my life. Everyone should.

Because I care for my family and friends, I wish them to be successful. I wish to see them enjoy the rewards of their hard work by spending their precious money and time on themselves, as they see fit.

 

A MARKETING MEDIA MACHINE

Holidays and birthdays in this context are a sham to fleece pockets and swindle people of what they have legitimately earned. Businesses and marketing media push holidays and birthdays to promote their profitability. They have no interest in protecting yours.  However, if I save up and buy for myself what I want when I can afford it, and if I do not obligate others to buy things to please me, then everyone’s  profitability is protected. I get what I want (because I have more of my money to spend on myself instead of buying gifts for others). Others get what they want (because they have more of their own money to spend on things that are most important to them without having to buy me and everyone else gifts). Businesses get what they want (the money keeps coming in, and even better, businesses can focus on creating and marketing things people really want instead of the hordes of plastic junk tchotchkes that fill stores every season–who really needs, and is hoping somebody buys them, an electric tie rack?).

When your time and money belong to you, and my time and money belongs to me, nothing more is expected or required of anyone… as it should be.

 

BESIDES, WHAT ARE WE REALLY CELEBRATING?

Most people and businesses do not know the origin of  the holidays they are celebrating or promoting (or, let’s be honest, pushing). The public is willingly conned through inducement of guilt and status discrimination in the name of altruism, for the profit of one party—whoever is pushing the event.

Personally, I would rather not spend time with friends or family who insist on “caring” for me by making me share in a cult dictated by something they never sought to understand. Think about this… if you really cared for someone, would you expect to trade trinkets whenever Target runs a bunch of commercials, or would you instead plead with the person you care about to keep the pay she earned rather than spend it frivolously on gifts you probably do not want or need? I wish my friends and family preferred to spend their hard-earned money on themselves and would allow me to enjoy watching them relish in the fruits of their own success, rather than giving their pay to me. What could make me happier than watching my loved ones enjoy their own success? I will take that over the electric tie-rack, another bottle of cologne, or a pair of plaid socks and matching underwear any day.

It is rare to meet people who understand the actual origin or meaning behind a given holiday. It is rare because people who learn the history of holidays often choose not to celebrate a holiday once they realize what they are actually endorsing.

 

Birthdays, for example, are supposed to be a celebration of the day a person is born. Of course, people are born long before they exit the womb of their mother. Forgiving that, at best a birthday is celebrating a random day when someone’s would-be parents probably had casual sex. Our parents had no intention of producing, specifically, the child or children they have (if they were hoping to produce a child at all).

To expect others to celebrate my birthday is essentially asking them to celebrate my parents’ young, and possibly stupid, act of casual sex.

Any other reason I can think to celebrate my birthday is narcissistic. Should anyone have to celebrate the fact I somehow managed to bumble my way this far through life without getting killed? Should I think I am so great, for no reason other than I have not stepped in front of a bus by accident, that everyone I have graced with my presence should be subjected to idol worship of me for at least one full day, every year?

I do not impose the expectation on anyone to celebrate my love of myself. I do not need them to validate my love for me. It saddens me, though, that we are taught it is wrong to love ourselves, and we are bullied into worshiping everyone else.

 

IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM… THEY’LL BEAT YOU.

Nonetheless, many friends, family, and acquaintances will insist on wishing me well on my birthday and other holidays. Often, there will be some trickery to have me acknowledge a holiday against my will, dismissing that it is MY WILL (“Just come for the family dinner—no one will mention it’s Thanksgiving to you, we promise…”; “I know you don’t celebrate Christmas, but… Merry Christmas!”; “Here is a hug–not because it’s your birthday or anything…it is just a random hug that happened to occur on the same day as your birthday, tee-hee…”).

I understand the sentiment and the desire to share affection for me, but I nonetheless consider this behavior bullying. I understand what people intend when they wish me Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas. Of course, they believe their intentions are loving, or even pious. However, forcing me to acknowledge birthdays and holidays is not an act of love. It disrespects my conscious value choices and dismisses my intelligence altogether. The intent may not be to insult me, but I am insulted.

 

No one likes to feel bullied.

I certainly understand why people like me are sometimes perceived as cold and insensitive for having strong moral fortitude. It is not always easy for me, either. However, it is, I think, the burden of becoming human—of seeing something which others choose to ignore because it is less difficult to live a dictated life than a consciously chosen one.

 

THE BURDEN OF BECOMING HUMAN

When I first chose my moral stance around holidays, I celebrated the birthdays and holidays of others, but dismissed my own. Celebrating holidays only for others, I thought, did not impose my values on them but still let them have their birthday cake and eat it too. I thought this was respectful to both their value system and mine. I learned there is a critical difference between our value systems, however. Unlike mine, the values of most people in this regard are not consciously selected. Their values are handed-down and accepted without investigation.

I think if a person can not logically defend his or her moral character, then it is not disrespectful if I, having deliberately chosen my moral code, do not acknowledge their lack of one. Clearly, there is no real Easter Bunny. I should not have to pretend there is but I also do not have to point out the logical fallacies of a child who believes in the bunny.

Still, I came to realize that for me to celebrate the birthdays and holidays of others (but not my own) ultimately violates the values of  both  systems.

I am not concerned about violating a fake value system. If I choose to accept the values of my acquaintances and family, though (meaning I celebrate their birthdays but do not allow them to celebrate mine), then it leads to inducement of guilt and unfairness for them. I find people feel it is not fair when you buy them gifts but do not allow them to buy you gifts. Thus, it violates their social premise (everybody gives to everybody). Quickly, the door to a creeping acceptance of their system is forced open. They feel compelled to provide, somehow, gifts or favors in return for my gifts.

The problem is the bullying never stops in this system. It can not stop because we are well-trained to feel guilty about receiving without giving in return.

A violation occurs on my side, as well, because I accept the bullying (I still do, sometimes, because it is simply too taxing to fight it on all fronts, all the time). It is so ubiquitous I must eventually allow small tokens of appreciation, if for no reason other than to relieve family and friends of their sense of debt. This means indirect submission to the bullying on my part, and again, opens the door to creeping acceptance.

There is another difference regarding trying to uphold my values while not violating theirs. The difference is I do not bully others to accept my values. I do not insist people stop celebrating their birthdays and holidays if I do not celebrate mine. I do not push my philosophy onto others; in fact, I am typically reluctant to explain my choices, except in brief quips to move a conversation forward, or in essays like this. Most people are not that interested (it is too much effort to stand against a tsunami of tradition).

It is interesting to me, however, that in the broadly accepted system of piousness, it is okay to bully me into following the whims of others, but in the deliberately chosen values of my philosophy, I do not demand the religious or altruistic to check their belief in holidays or God (Allah, Vishnu, Jehovah, whomever) at the door when they visit me. I do not demand or expect a token gift of worship if they happen to visit on the day I was born, however many years ago that may have been and whether they were actually at my birth. There is an irony to the preaching of togetherness, kinship, and tolerance by those doing the most bullying.

Of course, I recognize the challenge clear and logical thinking poses. To be fair, I took more than 30 years to come to these very basic conclusions and guidelines I now use to remind me (how) to live. That said, birthdays, holidays, ritualistic and religious traditions deserve to be tested and judged.

 

It is up to each man to bear the burden of becoming human or walk blindly into tradition and circumstance.

 

Happy (_____)day to me.

 

 

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