We live in a money-obsessed world. Everything seems to have a price tag attached and if it's not marketable, it's not worth doing. We are judged according to how much dough we can make. Cash is thought of as our greatest asset, it defines us and rules our lives. Money is being made out of money, slippery illusions are turned into gold. What's wrong with this picture?
Money and value
How much value does money actually represents? How much is your cash worth?
The real value of money
Money is just a symbol. You can't eat it, or at least you shouldn't - if you do, you're in for a serious case of food poisoning or broken teeth. It has no nutritional value whatsoever. You can't build a house out of money, you can't furnish a room with bills, you can't educate a child by giving him dollar bills to read. Money is just paper or metal or dots on a computer screen.
Yes, you can exchange it for all those usable things. Value of your money is decided according to the arcane rules of the free market. It's been a while since the spectre of galloping inflation was put to sleep in most countries so we seem to have forgotten how does it feel when money disappears overnight. We are committed to making cash instead of creating value, certain that we will be able to turn it into tangible items tomorrow or five years from now.
How certain can we really be, I wonder? There are so many things with potential to shake or destroy this security. A solar flare can wipe off Earth's electronic systems. Global economy can go haywire (far more haywire than it already is, I hasten to add). Some trigger-happy politicians can start a war to end all wars. Black swan events can and do happen (according to Nassim Nicholas Taleb a black swan event is anything with high impact, impossible to predict and easily explained in hindsight, you can read more about it here).
When I was born, my godmother opened a savings account for me and deposited a substantial sum of money there every single month for a few years. I don't want to bore you to death with details, it's enough to say that my home country went through some shake ups soon after and by the time I was ten, my valuable savings account lost all its value. With the help of my parents, I withdrew all the funds and bought myself... a lollipop. Yes, it was a delicious one but it was nothing compared to my godmother's real investment.
Just to clarify: I'm not a Doomsday crow, I'm not trying to say that a disaster will surely happen and will happen soon. I'm only saying that it could happen, and we need to be mindful of this.
Things money can't buy
I have a confession to make - I don't particularly like money. It buys me things I really need, yes, but in my case those things make a really short list. Roof over my head. Food. Medicine. Basic stuff. I'm trying to keep it basic, too.
Retail outlets offer mountains of things if only you can afford them and 99% of the stuff has one thing in common - it is absolutely not necessary for being alive and happy. It is fanciful and convenient, and marketers are trying to persuade you that you seriously need it in your life.
Love cannot be bought. Satisfaction with who you are cannot be bought. Honesty definitely cannot be bought. Entertainment can be free with little creativity, so can knowledge if you know where the local library is. No money in the world can buy you clarity of mind, self-confidence, common sense. Friends that can be paid for in cash are not worth your time and 'experiences' ultimately depend on your perceptions, not on the service provider.
Yet, we are repeatedly told we need more and more, ever more, money. Forget satisfaction, forget happiness, funds is what you're supposed to want. Not funds to buy stuff with anymore, just... money for money's sake.
I come across statements like 'your money is your biggest asset' and I start frothing at the mouth. My knowledge is my biggest asset. My ability to learn, to create. My dignity, physical and emotional health are my assets. People I can rely upon are my assets and money... money is just a medium of exchange.
George Carlin about stuff
Because it chimes in nicely with what I'm trying to say
Making money vs creating value
Our so-called developed societies are designed according to some really funny rules.
Details depending on your personal circumstances, you spend about 1/3 of your time on making money. That's 1/3 of the total, so another third goes towards sleep. You need to spend some time for personal hygiene, for getting to and back from work, for eating and preparing food, for shopping, for all sorts of bureaucratic tasks, for housekeeping etc etc. Not much time left for leisure, yes? Guess what, here's this obliging sales gentleman, he will gladly sell you gadgets x and y, designed specifically to quicken things up and save your time. Of course you do need to work a bit more to be able to afford them, but... You know, it's all for your convenience. You don't have to spend hours cooking, just buy the frozen meal. It's some 200% more expensive than cooking from scratch, has half the nutritional value and a long list of chemical compounds in the ingredients, but never you mind, we're doing this for you AND you're helping the economy too. You spend few moments with your family, well, facts of modern life, but if you earn just this bit more, you'll be able to buy them some cool stuff and surely they'll love you then? It's not too satisfying a lifestyle, but money, money, money, as soon as you have more money it will all be sweet.
Does this sound familiar at all?
I'm not even going to get started on energy management. You know, the personal energy, motivation, the will to go on? Write your own horror story here, I'm sure you can.
We seriously need to reclaim some of our time, so that we can create value. We could spend time with our close ones to create valuable connections. We could cook our own food to provide precious nourishment. We could learn to do things instead of paying for having them done. You'll keep the skill forever! We could forgo fashions and pursue whatever happens to be our true source of happiness.
We could, and I believe we should.
An exercise in moving focus from money to value
How to get off the vicious circle?
If you want to move away from money-based lifestyle, here's a small exercise for you:
1. Imagine you can have anything for free. Imagine that money doesn't exist and you can have anything you want, for nothing.
2. What would you acquire then, what would bring you the greatest happiness? Pick three things. It can be anything at all, things, abstractions, experiences.
3. Look closely at your three happiness-providing things and try to determine what need you are trying to fulfill. Example: if a new ipod is what you want, do you really want to be popular? Have something new to play with? To have what everyone has and not stand out? To be able to connect to other people easily? If it's a holiday in a sunny place, what is it that you're really craving? Some time off? Some rest? Sunshine? New experience?
4. Try to think of alternative ways of fulfilling the needs you've determined, preferably free ones, something you can provide, create, organise. Depending on your lifestyle, it can be a huge revolution or a tiny ripple, and it does take some brainstorming.
I say it's totally worth it anyway.
Creating your own value - why bother?
With enough money, we can buy almost anything when it comes to material goods. True.
It is easier to buy things than make them. Also true.
Making your own stuff is far more satisfying than buying it. Absolutely true.
Buying does not take any skill. Even children manage it ok. Creating things is another pair of shoes altogether. You need to learn to cook before you land a masterpiece dinner on the table. You need to be able to sew before you can put on that gorgeous homemade dress. You have to grasp basic accounting before you're able to do your own tax return. You need to enrich yourself through the process of learning and once you've learned, you can show off by putting your new skill to use.
If you make your own, the item you're getting is unique. It is 100% in accordance with your own specification. You know what ingredients went into it, to the very last piece/drop/stitch/whatever. You know no one had to slave away in a sweatshop to create your item. You are sure that none of your money paid for advertising your creation. You confirm your ability to produce something of value. You practise your skill in the process of making it. You cherish your own creation more than something you would buy. You are damn proud if what you made is good.
Things money can't buy and the eye cannot see
The world is full of invisible, priceless things.
Feelings cannot be bought and yet they rule our lives (feel free to argue if you wish, I claim that homo sapiens is an irrational species). Most ideas are outside the grasp of monetary economy. Spirituality is as far from money as possible (or at least it should be - if your spiritual guide is a bit on the greedy side, well, I'd change him if I were you). Value of warmth in human contact is not calculable in currency. Art rarely moves if created with economic potential in mind. The list goes on.
In the free market rampant, non-marketable goods are ignored or downplayed. I think it's a dangerous trend. The more dependent on money we are, the less time/energy we have to create non-saleable goods. Ideas without instant selling potential simply don't get developed, worked on. After all, if only money matters, then why bother?
Let me see. Because it might get useful or essential in the future, when our circumstances change? Because if non-marketable goods are not created, there is less of them around? Because if money is all that matters, humans don't matter anymore? Because people not motivated by greed are far more agreeable to be around and it's important not to starve them?
In the world full of sharks, little fish quickly get eaten. They either have to become sharks or perish. Compassion for the little fish aside, what will happen when there is no more small fry? What will the sharks eat? How will the world full of sharks look like?