Excerpted from The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life by Lynne Twist (W.W. Norton, 2003).
In our private lives, we all, at one time or another, have demeaned and devalued ourselves, taken advantage of people, or engaged in other actions we’re not proud of in order to get or keep money or the power we believe it can buy. We’ve silenced ourselves to avoid conflicts or uncomfortable interactions over money. Our behavior around money has damaged relationships when money has been used as an instrument of control or punishment, emotional escape or manipulation, or as a replacement for love. Among families of great wealth, many have been poisoned by greed, mistrust, and a desire to control others. Their lives of privilege have cut them off from the essential experience of ordinary human interactions and authentic relationships. In lives where money is scarce, the struggle can easily become the defining theme that discounts the self-worth and basic human potential of an individual, a family, or even whole communities or cultures. For some, the chronic absence of money becomes an excuse they use for being less resourceful, productive, or responsible than they could be.
We are born into a culture defined by money, and our initial relationship with money is the product of that culture, whether it is one based primarily in poverty, in a country like Mozambique or Bangladesh, or a culture of affluence and wealth in a country like the United States or Japan. From our earliest experiences, we learn money’s place and power in our families, our communities, and in our own lives. We see who earns it and who doesn’t. We see what our parents are willing to do, and what they aren’t willing to do, to acquire money or the things money buys. We see how money shapes personal perspective and public opinion.
In our distinctly aggressive American consumer culture, even our youngest children are drawn into that fierce relationship with money. Much as we did, only more so today, they grow up in a media milieu and popular culture that encourages an insatiable appetite for spending and acquiring, without regard to personal or environmental consequences. Distortions in our relationship with money emerge from a lifetime of these seemingly innocuous everyday experiences in the money culture. Personal money issues, as well as issues of sustainability and social equity central to the human economy and the environment, are clearly rooted in the soil of our relationship with money and the money culture into which we are born and that we come to accept as natural.