Thursday, November 16, 2006

7 Deadly Sins

Maybe it's because of the upcoming holidays and the numerous articles and ads touting the must-have gifts of the season. But I've been thinking a lot about the 7 deadly sins lately, specifically greed and envy.

This past week, I was dropping off a friend at her house, and I saw another friend pull up in a Lexus SUV. 'Hey! Did Leon get a new car?' Oh, he got into an accident or something like that. So his parents gave him the Lexus. 'Must be nice!' I muttered under my breath. Just to give you some context, Leon's parents own several businesses, and they're quite wealthy. Several years ago, Leon dropped out of med school to go 'find himself.' I think he's still searching, but for now, he now works for a small company as a financial analyst. The car that he used to drive was a late model Audi A4 - a gift from his parents, naturally.

I don't have a problem with self-made millionaires. This is America, after all. But I do confess that I tend to resent people who were born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths. I'm grateful that my parents gave me a college education and taught me to be self-reliant and fiscally responsible. But there's an underlying expectation that I'll be supporting them financially during their golden years. Guys like Leon can barely support themselves, let alone their parents. And they tend to coast through life because they have the expectation that they'll inherit their parents' wealth someday. So, at times, his cavalier attitude towards money grates on my nerves.

Fast forward a few days to lunch with a coworker. We're going through the performance review cycle right now. So salary increases and bonuses are being discussed and determined by senior management. Naturally, my coworker is a bit anxious and worried about the actual numbers and how it'll all play out come next January. Her husband just started his own business, and they've had to dip into savings repeatedly in the past few months. So, for the first time ever, she's counting on a huge bonus to help tide her over while he gets his business up and running. She recognizes the fact that she's lucky - she has a nice home in an affluent neighborhood, a stable job, two wonderful kids and a husband who loves her. But she can't help but resent the fact that she's now the primary breadwinner. She envies her friend who has an even nicer house than she does plus the option of staying at home with the kids because her husband makes a ton of money. I told her that everyone struggles with feelings of jealousy and envy, and then briefly recapped my momentary lapse from earlier in the week with Leon.

So, what's the antidote to envy and greed and materialism? How do we banish the green monster when it rears its ugly head? Strangely enough, I think the key to being content with what we have is to give generously. When you share things with people, you're forced to loosen your grip. Or as my friend would say, to hold them lightly in the palm of your hand. For my co-worker, it helps that the folks in her church family have a lot less than she does. When she opens up her home to them for small group meetings and such, she feels embarrassed that she has an abundance of wealth. It helps keep her grateful.

Fast forward to yesterday, when my mom asked me if I wanted to hit the stores with her after Thanksgiving dinner. Absolutely not! I find it ironic and somewhat depressing that Black Friday now begins on Thanksgiving Day. Instead of counting our blessing and enjoying our time with family and friends, which is the whole point of Thanksgiving, the majority of Americans will be inhaling their turkey dinner and then rushing off to the big box retailers to gobble up so-called deals on really useless stuff to give to themselves and to others on Christmas Day. See for example the crazy behavior prompted by the release of Sony's Playstation 3.

Again, irony of ironies. Christmas is supposed to be about celebrating the greatest gift of all, not about buying the latest and greatest toys and gadgets. But we've managed to turn it into some weird spectacle of greed. And is it just me or does it get worse and worse with each passing year? So, this time around, I'm issuing a challenge, or more like a quiet plea. Please stop the insanity. During this holiday season, count your blessings, be hospitable and give generously to those in need.

[That's all. Nothing more. Stepping off my soapbox now.]


Sean Carter said...

Great post!!!

trumpman3 said...

I second that, I enjoyed this post. And I don't think it's just you. It seems people's greed and dishonesty get worse every year. I've considered myself a bit of a humbug the last few years because of what you see and hear when you go out - the packs of people pushing and shoving to get at something or to be first. I'll take your post to heart - quiet time at home with family sounds GREAT!

Suzanne said...

Well said! I used to be in fundraising and the people I met who gave to causes and charities were always the most grounded and content people I've met.
Check out for a unique gift idea -- you loan small amounts of $$ to third-world businesses and get to track their progress and learn more about their efforts.

Anonymous said...

It really bothers me that we let our level of personal satisfaction be determined by how we compare ourselves to someone else.

Of course, it is self-defeating to feel depressed because my house isn’t as luxurious, my car isn’t as new, or my salary isn’t as big as my neighbor’s. Each of us has come to this time and place with different resources and demands. My neighbor’s priorities and values might be different from mine from mine as well.So it seems equally shallow to feel better about myself because if I notice my house is nicer, my car is newer, or my salary is bigger than my neighbor.

I once attended a conference on cutting edge technology where the keynote speaker began his speech with a compliment stating that the audience members were probably more intelligent than 99% of the general population; going on to say that left about 6 million people more intelligent than us. The fact is that there will always be someone who is better off than you are and always someone who is worse off. So, in life in personal life comparisons are meaningless. Focus on how you are measuring up to your own values and goals and how you can make life better for those around you.