Money Changes Everything

November 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

“She said I’m sorry baby I’m leaving you tonight
I found someone new he’s waitin’ in the car outside
Ah honey how could you do it
We swore each other everlasting love
She said well yeah I know but when
We did – there was one thing we weren’t
Really thinking of and that’s money –

Money changes everything

-Cindy Lauper

When I was a six-year-old girl in grade one,  one afternoon I found myself at lunchtime all alone.  All the other students except for one were somewhere else — but I didn’t know where.  It was the first time in my life when I felt I was “missing” something. I just couldn’t understand where everyone was or what they were doing.  I found out later that day that my classmates had started to play a game called kissing tag and for whatever reason, I didn’t get invited, or else, more likely,  due to my shyness or uncertainty I simply hadn’t “tagged” along.

The one remaining student was a very tall and cheery girl who was joyfully eating her lunch at her desk, alone.  She must have only been six also, but seemed much bigger, and older than me.   I suddenly had the idea that if I gave her some of my lunch she would play with me.  So that’s what I did, though she only reluctant accepted my offering…  A few days later, she told me she wanted to play with me anyway and I wouldn’t have to give her any lunch from then on.  Gee, it hadn’t occurred to me that she might have wanted to play with me all along.

There are so many elements at play in this story, but the one that triggered my memory of it are the discussions we’ve had of late about our global monetary system in the wake of the occupy movements that have swept across the globe.  One thing that I find particularly troubling is how so many of our relationships have been transformed into currency.

What we once called the primary elements of human interaction are now transactions. We pay to be kept company, to make art, to learn, to be listened to (if we are sad), to be bathed (if we are elderly) to be touched (if we ache); we pay to find a partner (online dating), and often, we think about our worth in terms of dollar signs and digits — both our own and one another’s) when we are deciding who to love and how.  Was this not the skill I had inadvertently picked up that day in the classroom?  I knew instinctually (or culturally) that my lunch gave me value; I had leaned on my own bargaining power in lieu of my intrinsic self worth and deserving of love and inclusion.

Thankfully, it wasn’t too long after that sunny late morning, that a new friend came along — she had been busy on the playing field and had kissed many a boy more than I (a trend I would reverse a few years later) — and embraced a friendship with me that has  lasted 30 years.  I had been rescued by something more real than a sandwich: authentic love, fun, and caring that money can’t buy or take away.

And yet, decades later, I have found myself falling for the same old patterns in which I know I am not alone.  I once convinced a boyfriend to travel overseas with me and since he wasn’t entirely sure about that being a priority in his life, I offered to employ him and pay his way.  While he was certainly capable of the task at hand, I’ve had to ask myself looking back on it, how much of this offering came out of a belief that I would be more loved — loveable— if I had something to offer.  The trip was, what some professionals might term, a “complete disaster.”

I think part of the problem is we have so little faith in each other, we think that no one will be there for us if we don’t pay them, as if money were the only value worth trading.

One of my favourite spiritual teachers, Byron Katie, often speaks about the magic of her current relationship through which for the first time in her life she finds herself with a love she has “done nothing for.”  What this means is, she is not loved because of how she has styled her hair, or because of her waistline, or degrees or habits or history.  She is loved and loves because of love itself.  This is what we are capable of when nothing else gets in the way.

In our world, based on the monetary system that we currently have, it is very hard not to measure ourselves and what we value with a dollar sign.  In fact we are being raised to put a cost value on things that used to be simply a measure of natural human goodness.  And yet, here we are, in a monetary system, for better or worse, all playing the same game.  And I am no exception.

It is important to notice that how we spend our money reflects an underlying and often unrecognized value system at work.  We could even say that money reflects our morality — what we value and who.

I find it a huge drag, for example, that most of the work traditionally done by women in our culture, including often taking years off work to raise the next generation, is still unpaid/underpaid. I find it strange that women, no matter how educated, still remain disadvantaged economically when we chose to have children (and therefore exit the labour market), and especially if we inadvertently find ourselves down the road as single mothers.   Does our monetary system reflect the lives, goals, opinions  and values of women in our culture?  I don’t have the answer, and obviously the question is a complex one. While I do feel that in this country at least we are moving more and more in that direction,  it seems to me an important question to continue asking.  And what about women in other countries?  Do the ethics we boast here in Canada extend beyond our own boarders?

It seems especially important to point out that much of the frustrations we experience as women, whether they be from trying to raise a child on an inadequate maternity benefit, to finding ourselves earning less money than our male colleagues  (it still happens), are often simply systemic problems and not individual failings.  These scenarios are by-products of  living in a culture that has given certain functions and people more value than others.  This is why, if we were living in, say, Sweden, our experience, and therefore our choices, is going to be much different than if we are living in, say, Bangladesh.  The same thing applies to minorities of all kinds, from the colour of your skin to the weight you carry on your body to the gender you love, to your aptitude for arts or sciences — we are in a constant and in many ways inescapable relationship with the value systems of our larger culture. We are not only individuals, we are also part of a social whole that can either endow us with potentials or limitations.  It is important to notice that we are both individual and collective in our experience of life.

There is nothing wrong with using money to reflect our values, in fact, I see this as the only way out of the global, social, and environmental mess that we find ourselves in today.  The problem begins at the moment when we make money a value in and of itself, and forget why we’re here at all: to connect, to love and be loved, to be safe, to evolve and to grow, in equality and in mutual recognition of our values and dreams — our precious lives.

Now, I’m off to find me a job.

Thanks for reading

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