The Meaning of Money

Humans make a mysterious thing out of money. They may see it as a God or an act of God which comes to them to make their lives complete. Some people go so far as to think that as long as their intentions are clear the universe will send them the dough. This isn’t incorrect per se, but it gets forgotten that the purpose of intention is to give rise to congruent action.

From an objective standpoint money seems pretty straightforward: you give people money when they have stuff you want, and people give you money when you have stuff they want. “Have stuff” also entails “do stuff” and maybe even “be stuff.” I think there’s no need to elaborate further.

That being said, a lot of people have a lot of hang-ups about money. Some worry that having too much of it will equate to them being evil. Others worry that not having enough of it will equate to them being evil. Some want to make money in ways that are aligned with their personal values. Others see this as a futile, largely impossible pursuit.


Money, Love, and Fear

First of all, even if you do, money does not care by what means it travels. If it makes its way to a charity to save endangered species of monkeys, fine. If it comes full circle through a group of illicit drug-users and dealers, then so be it.

This does not mean that it is useless for you to care about the ways in which you make and spend money. Provided you stick to your values in this regard, then obviously your caring will have an effect on how your money goes about its travels.

In truth, everyone cares to some extent about the ways in which their money is made and spent. The mass of people care more, it appears, about how they spend their money than how they make it, but they care nevertheless. Surely even the butchers at factory farms who took their jobs out of desperation to feed their families would like to make money in different ways than they do now.

The people who make an honest effort to earn money by means that align with their values are motivated by love. Such a person values the work they do in itself more so than the money they earn from it, but because money can help them to do their work better they would like that as well.

In contrast, the people who work solely to make money are motivated by fear. They have decided that money in itself is a worthy pursuit. It’s fine and dandy if the means to make money aligns with personal values (aside from money itself), but that’s generally considered the stuff of impractical dreams.

Money is made insofar as you’ve mastered either form of motivation and insofar as you’ve created and delivered social value. We could add that you must also deliver the value in a way that can generate income.

The more you act on either fear or love (to the exclusion of the other) the more likely you are to create social value, whatever form that value may take. As long as you set up a way of earning money as a result of delivering this value you will have more money the more love-based or fear-based you are.

If you try to go right smack dab in the middle of love and fear, at 0, you are likely to generate no money. You will think about how you’d like to make money in morally upright ways, though your personal values are probably too weak to be acted upon. At the same time, you fear the suffering that will result from a lack of money, but it just feels wrong to you to take any ol’ job scraping poop to get that money. So you do nothing, and you end up with nothing.

The mass of people, again, are motivated by mild amounts of fear in their money-making. They will tell you that they must maintain their present stream of income in order to survive. The top 1% may say the same, though their standards for survival are much, much higher. The masses thus earn modest amounts of money: they are clear as to why they want the money (unlike the poor person at 0), but that why is not a very strong one.

Why isn’t survival a very strong reason for money-making? Because you do not NEED money to survive. You need food to survive. You need air. You need water. You need warmth. If you suddenly find yourself in the middle of hundreds of miles of wilderness, these are the things you will seek out. Any money you may happen to have with you will be worthless. The best it can do is very briefly fuel a fire. It does not contain calories, nor does alchemy exist to turn it into oxygen or water.


Money Provides Focus

What money does in an organized, functioning society is that it makes survival easier. Most of us (in America) don’t have to spend our days picking vegetables, carrying water, shooting deer in the woods, or collecting air in jars. We can do these things if we wish, but society and the economic system on which it runs allow us to use money to bypass these activities.

What money does more generally, then, is provide focus. The more money we have, the more we can focus on activities aside from survival. The more money you spend on something, the more you focus on that thing. When you spend money you give x amount of focus to that thing, in which x is based on the number of dollars spent. The things you own which had higher price tags on them undoubtedly stand out more in your mind than those that do not.

In this sense, you could also say that money amplifies who you are. If you are an angel money will help you to be a better angel, as you will reach out to more people and get them the best quality help possible. If you are a tyrant money will help you to be a more powerful tyrant, such that you can purchase weaponry and establish armies that will prevent any threats to your power becoming more than threats.

Don’t confuse “amplify” with “create”: money is not a source of power. Money can help you to express yourself more effectively, but it cannot make you yourself in the first place. If you have no power over yourself now, such that your control over your actions is nil, money will not help you to improve. If you’re addicted to something you’ll just spend more money on whatever that thing is. This is a case in which having more money tends to be worse for you. It makes ending yourself that much easier.

We can thus say that money, ultimately, is a reflection of self. More specifically, what money is used for is a reflection of self. The wealthiest among us are inevitably the most transparent.

Can you attain the same levels of focus and power money provides without the accumulation and spending of money? You can, but it will probably take a lot longer, just as waiting for the crops in your backyard to ripen takes more time than going to the supermarket to buy dinner.

It’s the same with all your desires. You don’t need money to get what you want. Price is not an inherent quality of objects: surely the objects themselves don’t care about how much they’re worth. Financial worth is something humans have agreed upon. This worth, however, does not prevent me from getting a Porsche for free if someone happens to be giving it away. The money and the object are not the same thing: money simply can make the object easier to attain.

So, to say that you cannot have something without proper funds is to say that money is more powerful than you are, though we (indirectly) established earlier that it is not. Man creates money. Money reflects man. If you think you need money to create, then you will become an endless loop of the reflection of nothing.

There is no reason to get mad at money: it is a tool which highlights what society values. It reveals our priorities to us and can help us to better focus on those priorities. What’s so bad about that?


Running for Money

An understanding of money can often be aided by comparing money to scores in a game—or, as I prefer, finishing times in a race. All three are measurements by which we compare people, performances, and objects, as well as the value of those people, performances, and objects.

In nearly 7 years of running competitively I have found the best predictor of my finishing time to be my level of self-assurance, which is about the same as clarity of mind. The less resistant I am to running fast and what it takes to do so, the faster I run. Clear, straightforward intentions—that is, focus—makes me more powerful as a runner (because I am led to take the right actions), and I thus can yield better results.

Is it bad if I care more about running a fast time than I do about running in itself? It doesn’t have to be, though for myself such motivation is unsustainable. What I find more important than running a fast time per se is that I stand up to the present competition and make my internal world as aligned with success as possible (i.e. my thoughts and feelings do not resist running fast). It matters more to me that I make an all-out effort against my present competitors: even if I achieve this every race, the finishing times of those races are unlikely to be the same.

Still, taking this approach makes it more likely that I will indeed run a personal record (PR). Unless I’m a lap behind everyone else it seems easier to move my fastest when focusing on the race itself rather than the units the race is measured in (time). What’s more exciting: hanging on for dear life to the person in front of you for several miles and then running all-out, neck-and-neck for the last 60 seconds in the possibility you might win by a step; or, a clock off to the side of the track? Which do you think is more likely to be motivating?

The faster and the larger the number of competitors present, the more likely faster times are to be run. There will be many talented people pushing each other to run their hardest, so in order to win someone would have to go fast. This means that any one individual is less likely to come out on top: but, again, it also means that each individual is more likely to run faster than they usually do. This situation is the Coke and Pepsi of running: it is difficult for either company to outdo each other, but this is because both are swimming in money. The number 2 finisher is still extremely impressive: she just looks less so because of number 1.

Likewise, in a smaller race with less talented people it will be far easier to win, but being the best in this case might not equate to being good. So what if in a race of three fat eight-graders the winner takes it in 7:00? Elsewhere people are breaking 4 minutes. It might be hard for them to tell at this point, but in the larger scheme of things their performances will turn out to be rather forgettable.

A fast time, like money, can help an athlete to prioritize. It can help him to choose a race-distance to focus on. A fast time can bring an athlete to a more prominent competition. The faster he runs, the faster his competition (i.e. when he moves up to the next level—say, from a State to a National championship), and the faster his competition the more of him will be expressed, as the challenge will force everything within him up to the surface. The more of him that is expressed the better he can focus on improving himself, and the better he focuses the faster he runs—and so on and so forth. Fast times and sums of money act as positive feedback loops: the more of them you have, the more of them you can have.

The athlete does not need to run fast to enjoy his run or even to run at all. A lack of achievement won’t keep him from meeting his desire to run. All it means is that he will be unable to run with full expression and awareness of self, since this is what optimal effort at the highest levels provides. The slower you run the easier it is to remain in slowness because you do not know what you must focus on to become less slow.

On to the next point. Do you think any runner is entitled to a fast time on any given day? No. What the hell entitles you to a good performance? How you do is up to you. For what reasons would a God possibly bless an athlete with a personal record? What would make this athlete deserve it?

Likewise, what entitles a person to money—a desire to use it in the name of the highest good? If you don’t demonstrate that you can serve the highest good in the first place, money won’t come around to help you do it better.

What if an athlete was one of the best for a while but he got hurt—is that fair? Surely he doesn’t deserve to do badly all of a sudden, right?

I know that, for me, injury is almost always related to a loss of self-assurance. I freaked out during a run  6 months ago and my ass has not stopped hurting since. Sometimes I wear spikes thinking I need the extra edge they provide and I wind up with a foot screaming in pain (I know this doesn’t happen to most people). Lots of times I run through pain thinking that this one sole workout is more important than the next race, and I then run slower than I could have in that race. In all of these situations clarity of mind is lacking. As far as I’m concerned, my self-sabotage is always chosen.

To preserve my ego I could say that I don’t care about running quickly any longer, but where will this get me? If I don’t care about improving myself aren’t I more likely to stagnate?

Other times I may accidentally invest my sanity and happiness in my performance: even when I do my absolute best ever this costs me emotionally, because I disable myself from feeling pleased with how I did.

If I claim to not care a wink about money, and instead only about my work in itself, then I probably won’t receive any to help me do that work better. So I’m just blocking my own efforts.

If I see money as the key to happiness I may accumulate a lot of it, but it will mostly bring me anxiety and frustration. Small day-to-day fluctuations in income will cause me to sweat. If I make less this year than last year I may fall into a depression (both financially and emotionally!).

Don’t pretend there is no score, but remember that the score is not the game itself—it’s just one way of measuring what happens in the game. The score can serve as a reality check and help you determine whether you’re actually doing a good job or just spinning your wheels.

That being said, you may find that the numbers that are the score don’t matter as much to you as the performance itself, and what you have gained by it. Don’t tell me that green paper is more valuable to you than the living human squishiness that makes up this world. J

And if the score really and truly is irrelevant to you… Well, more power to you.