The national debt as of this month hit just above 11 Trillion dollars. According to estimates, each US citizen’s share of this debt is about 36,000 dollars. Most will scream government waste, or Wall Street corruption. We will give the evil eye to those on top who spend for luxury items, pet projects, and for more money in their pocket. However, as I see it, this is OUR debt. Those on top, who spend so frivolously, as we wait for trickle-down economics to give us what we deserve, are in fact just like you and me. The only difference is that they are where most of us wish we were –on top.
The truth is we are trillions of dollars in debt to our own greed. Greed is our vice. We have battled our vices with our virtues for thousands of years; perhaps, as long as humans have walked the earth. We want beyond our basic needs to satisfy our mind, our desire, even to get our fix. It has been proven that when the desire of greed is rewarded with the object which is desired, the brain releases the chemical dopamine to stimulate a natural high. The more we desire then get, the more we crave: ultimately never really being satisfied. To be greedy is an addiction. We are addicted the concept of more. More is what drives us. More is why we are where we are collectively. The perpetual question left standing is “How much do we really need if all we want is more?”
The wise sages, the ancient philosophers, the prophets of past, even modern day theological scholars identify greed as central to all other vices. Through greed the short comings of humans quickly manifest and spread out like vines off a weed. Through greed we will deceive, lie, envy another, be prideful, enraged; you pick your temptation or short coming. The worst is to know another has suffered from your vice. If you have excess, while another has less; yet further down the line, another has none –you in essence are causing those with less to suffer and those with none to perish because of your greed. We don’t like to look at it this way, but the truth is those who have it to spare, but don’t —spare no life. To some degree, we all play a part in the sufferings of another if we live in excess.
I am no better. Every week I throw away food because I bought more than I needed. Granted, I didn’t intentional mean to waste it, but I did. Someone could have used that food, or I could have given it to another to use. Likewise, I have more clothes than I know what to do with, but I do not wear them because they are ‘out of style’ –and now I want more. It is not about need, but want. I will never be content with what I have, because what I want is not being driven by need, but by a desire to want more. Would I say I am greedy? I would say I have that nature, but I don’t feed it enough to be addiction. When I am aware and I see what I have, I am thankful. When I am thankful, I feel blessed. When I am blessed it quells my desire for more and appreciates what I receive. When I appreciate, I think to give. When I think to give, I don’t want anymore. The trick is to live in this awareness.
It is not the desire to want that defines greed, but the excess of want which does. It is natural to want. I am hungry so I want to eat; I am tired so I want to sleep; I am dirty so I want to get clean; the list goes on. However, it’s when our desire to want does not coincide with need that opens the gateway for greed to grab hold. Fulfilling a want, without need, can never truly bring satisfaction because the desire is based on something more than need –it is based on greed.
Greed is powerful. It lies and deceives. It will convince you that if you have what you desire, you will finally be happy. Yet, when you get it, you are already moving on to the next desire, because through greed envy is born.
Our national debt is as large as it is because for centuries we have been taught to want for ourselves, not give in charity to another. We give, but it’s not for another; more often than not it is out of guilt, tax breaks, or to make ourselves feel better in pride. How many children are taught the value of charity while growing up? They are taught to desire, whether it is the latest game console, the freshest clothes, the hottest shoes, or the newest-must-have-craze. We are taught from a young age to desire, crave and get in gratification. Advertisers know this truth about human nature and they play on it. They play on it to the point they get us to want and then envy those who have. Status is everything –and greed promotes status. The more we have, the higher the illusion of our status.
Not many people know who Adam Smith is, but essentially his ideas and philosophies are the backbone of our capitalist society. Back in 1776, he wrote a book titled “The Wealth of Nations”. He observed human nature and basically concluded one will consistently act in one’s own interest before all else. He realized that this observation could be used as an economic advantage in a free market. What one wants drives our economy, drives our government, and drives our daily lives. Smith implies in his book, this isn’t necessarily bad, but as we can now see, it is not necessarily good either. Greed always finds its way in.
In Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” he discusses how virtue is gained within balance; the balance being liberality. If we shift too much one way or the other, we live within excess or deficiency. If we live in excess, we are greedy. If we live in deficiency, we are wasteful. However, if we find balance, we live fulfilled. Ultimately, Aristotle noted, the liberal will give for the right reasons, at the right times, without attachment. Greed and envy would be tempered to the virtues of living within ones means.
Adam Smith was correct when he noticed that it came down to the individual making the choice for themselves. However, the problem exists in using our innate desire toward fulfilling self indulgent wants to fuel our economy. In essence, we are using greed to gain wealth for a society. This is where capitalism fails, because the greedy want only for themselves. They will only give to you if it serves their self interest. Their desire for more will never be satisfied. If we continue to feed the greedy, then greed grows stronger. Like any drug, over time, the fix needs to get bigger in order for the reward to have the same effect as a high. We, as a country, are addicted to more. We did it to the Native Americans. We took their land. We slaughtered them because we wanted more. We didn’t stop until we had it all. It is fitting there is a Native American proverb about this. It goes:
“A Native American grandfather talking to his young grandson tells the boy he has two wolves inside of him struggling with each other. The first is the wolf of peace, love and kindness. The other wolf is fear, greed and hatred. “Which wolf will win, grandfather?” asks the young boy. “Whichever one I feed,” is the reply.”
We all have this choice. We have the choice to grow as we live; knowing every choice is defining of who we will be tomorrow, or even today. Or we have the choice to give into our vices and live the negative effects of karma brought about by the choices we make; choices that are a part of the empty promises of happiness greed provides within the world.
Siddhartha Gautama understood the suffering we place on ourselves through our attachment to the physical world, our want. He said suffering is brought about by our attachment to impermanent things, whether it is objects, thoughts, emotions, or even the idea of self; and our ignorance of this truth. The crutches for suffering are desire, passion, and pursuit of wealth and fame, or summed up: greed. We cling to our attachments in the hopes we find happiness, but the more we crave, the more we want, and the more suffering we bring to ourselves. The end result is that we are the creators of our own suffering.
No one else is the direct cause of our suffering. We do not suffer as punishment. There is no God, looking down, and punishing us for our deeds. In fact, we are punishing ourselves. God is not judge –all along we made the choices that brought about our suffering. We face the judgment of self within the universal realm of cause and effect. I do believe in God, I believe in a higher consciousness, and I believe there is a lesson we have yet to learn within the awareness of truth –and that is where God comes in. God offers us truth –an escape from our suffering. It is up to us to relinquish the illusion that power and greed; that our attachment to impermanent things will lead to true happiness. We have to accept in awareness that we, individually, have to battle this vice with virtue: one person at a time.
There is only one judge and jury, and it exists within each and every one of us –the self. When we free our being from the idea of self, we in essence free ourselves from the judgment we have placed on who we are, or are becoming. We have the opportunity to free ourselves from the vices of the world. We have the opportunity to serve a higher purpose than just being enslaved to the impermanence of the world through greed –and the fear of losing all we gained in greed.
Jesus Christ said it best. He said, “No one can serve two masters, because either he will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (greed)” We like to think we can have it all, but what does that really mean? Christ had the opportunity to have authority over the world, but he did not take it because he understood the world would perish. He didn’t want to the power: he didn’t give into greed. Instead he chose to follow what was within, because what is within is permanent. It was not about his self interest, but the collective interest of all, in which his needs and purpose would be met.
The story of Christ feeding thousands of people on a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish are representative of how far we can go when we stop thinking of ourselves and think of others. There is enough food for every single person on this planet, but we are too greedy to feed them. This planet is sustainable for all life, but not greed and life. Mahatma Gandhi says it best in this quote, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” We need to stop being greedy or else we will never break free of our greed. We will continue to blame other’s when the problem exists within. If we want to get out of debt, we have to stop judging through the eyes of the self and start living through the spirit of being, separate from the short-coming within the world.
We have the virtues of the heart to counter the vices of the mind. When we give from the heart, we give out of love; when we take, we do it out of fear. We do not need any more than what we have to give. Let’s bring charity back into our daily lives. Let’s not give just on holidays, or out of guilt. Let’s do it because our heart outweighs the addictions of the mind. Let’s do it because we can. Let’s change bad habits and break free of vices. Collectively, let’s grow out of debt and become abundant in compassion for others. Let’s not be afraid for ourselves. Let’s realize that when we care for others; when we provide for another –we provide for ourselves. Let’s change our way of thinking.
What debt we do have looks enormous, but the truth is that it is, in fact, impermanent. However, the love we have to give is real –it carries on beyond the turning of numbers. I don’t want to live by a growing illusion of economic disaster and fear. I want to live by compassion. I want to give because I do not want to feed the wolf of greed any longer. I want to show the world that virtue, without fear, is stronger than vice, without love. We are in debt to our greedy nature, but it is not in greed I trust. I trust that our compassion for one other will always out way our greed for self. When faced with the choice to do what is virtuous, most make the right decision. I believe in a human heart filled with love.