This is one of those rare topics that gets me really and truly angry, though I can’t quite pin down what, or who, I’m angry at. But let’s give it a go here, shall we?
I had a professor who shared this piece of wisdom: understand money, sex, and power, and you will understand people. Later, she revised the statement to include just power and shame–but really, shame is just the flip side of power, isn’t it? And money and sex are just tangible, every day manifestations of power, aren’t they? So, in my opinion, her statement holds true.
Money is not complicated
Money buys things, and we need things to survive. Food. Shelter. The occasional night out to help us stay sane. Clothes. Transportation. These are facts. (What’s up for debate is how much of each item is truly necessary, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Money can also buy beauty, and beauty can translate into respect and attention–social power. Money can buy people, in that salaries must be paid by somebody. Money can buy influence. And increasingly, at least in the United States, money can buy votes.
And so, because of these secondary capacities of money, it gets a bad rep. Money, which at its core represents a tangible, trade-able form of value, gets equated with power, selfishness, ambition, greed, and other morally questionable constructs. It’s gotten to the point where it’s nearly impossible to talk about the primary function of money–you know, its fundamental role in putting food on the table and a roof over your head–without getting it confounded with these secondary functions.
Money = Greed ?
I think my Group Dynamics professor had it right. Humans are driven by a desire to increase power and decrease shame. For some, more money means more power, whether it’s the power to better satisfy desires or the power of social influence. We want things, and money gives us the means to get them. That’s power. Yet, we have also largely been socially conditioned about Goodness and Badness.
Goodness is sharing, giving, being selfless, helping others. Badness is selfishness, greed, and violence. Wanting more money feels dangerously similar to greed, and greed is Bad. Being Bad makes us feel shame. So to avoid shame, we pretend we don’t feel greed; to avoid triggering feelings of greed, we turn away from money.
This, in turn, has led to the increasingly complex rationalizations that have given us things such as billionaire private donors, the concept of a trickle-down economy, and our incredibly well-funded political machine. It’s for charity! or the economy! or social change! It is definitely, definitely not for greed.
Read also: Can Money Actually Buy You Happiness?
Why We Love Money?
In a relationship, many aspects are crucial for it to be considered harmonious. The point “money” may not be very romantic, but it can cause all the more trouble – and is therefore quite important. Money allows us to live a life we enjoy; it allows you to feed your family, live in a beautiful home, take vacations, and express gratitude to others.
We’ve been taught that money is a horrible thing, that we shouldn’t talk about it, and that we shouldn’t talk about how much money we have. Which reinforces the notion that money is bad. So, whether we do it intentionally or unconsciously, we begin to repel money. Why would you want to hold on to something negative? You won’t want to ‘attract’ terrible things, and you won’t want to keep a large stockpile of something bad on hand.
Money in itself is not evil; rather, it is the desire for money that is evil. What separates those who love money from those who do not is that those who love money are willing to go to any length to make money, regardless of morals.
Working For Free?
This past year, I’ve had the opportunity to travel from Philadelphia to Taiwan, Los Angeles, and Sao Paulo. I was in the awkward position of technically being a student–(and thus, not really in the job market) but not being in school (thus open for employment). All my peers from undergrad were working and living independent adult lives. I was even planning a wedding, one of the most financially demanding decisions a young adult may make.
Nevertheless, there I was, living rent-free first with my parents in Taiwan, then with my fiance in Los Angeles. I questioned my merit, my self-worth, and my value as a human being while being praised for and encouraged to continue making my dedication to dance/movement therapy and helping people a top priority, material necessities and desires notwithstanding.
As if the higher calling and the spiritual compensation of helping people were incompatible with the messiness and practicality of money. As if I would be cheapening myself and the work if I wanted some monetary gain. As if wanting my time and energy to be recognized and rewarded were signs of selfishness and greed. (In the meantime, Facebook bought Whatsapp for $19 billion, and it was called a strategic acquisition.)
As a result, I accepted a minimal salary teaching English so I had time to volunteer in clinical environments. I even paid for the pleasure of working for free. And in doing so, I joined thousands of unpaid interns and underpaid employees across America, most of whom are doing it in the name of selflessness, societal good, and helping others.
What makes me angry
Here’s what makes me so angry: the contradictory and inconsistent dialogue surrounding money that, despite possible best intentions, serves in the end to increase wealth inequality. The society-wide shaming that is targeted at mental health professionals, educators, and parents makes it impossible to talk about money without being accused of caring more for ourselves than our charges.
Is therapy worth the money?
Don’t you hear it, the constant unspoken refrain: “What do you mean, you want to be paid more? Are you implying that your needs matter more than the welfare of our children? You dare threaten the happiness of your fellow human beings, the livelihood of these children, by refusing to work for less money? How selfish and uncaring of you!”
And it makes me so angry because it is so, so, so unnecessary! This confounding of money with the construct of Good/Bad has made us forget its real meaning. Power and shame aside, people need money to survive. People everyday are making value out of their time. They are making the world a better place. So yes, they might enjoy their time working, but they also deserve something in return. It’s about equality and survival, not morality. And ignoring this need just ends up devaluing their work and their value as humans, all while being justified by a rhetoric that claims their work is invaluable to society.
Do you see the contradiction here?
I wish, so hard, that we could just have honest conversations about money. In the same way that culture is now in the spotlight and DMT students are encouraged to have difficult conversations about their racial or socioeconomic status biases, I wish we questioned our monetary biases. What does it mean to us? Why do we want it? How much do we deserve? How does it make us feel?
Maybe, if we had these conversations, we would be better equipped to explain to employers, organizations, and funders why dance/movement therapy–and other socially conscious professions–deserve money. Maybe we could mobilize to prevent the next budget cuts from happening. Maybe we could actually get the resources we, and those we serve, need.