Rethinking Money And Security

Posted by Min Lee on Sep 1, 2014
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Big thanks to Birju and all the ServiceSpace collective reflections that helped me articulate these thoughts I wrote last month's reading for our Honesty Circle in Singapore - a space for young people to gather and explore truths to help build a positive relationship to money! Amazing pledges after the circle from folks wanting to smile more, to explore co-op models, and to start growing veggies.. the movement is seeding even in too-many-shopping-centres-singapore!

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"It is easy for most of us to realize that money doesn't buy happiness.

But I still worry about having enough money. I was taught that I need money to survive, and that money brings security. Security is the state of being free for danger and threat, it's about feeling safe, it's one of our basic needs, it's a biological instinct, and it's a big deal.

But no matter how much I save, it never seems to be enough - and so the question is, enough for what? Planning to have enough for my material needs is the easy part. With some calculation, I can work out how much money I need for a simple lifestyle, a house, kids, adjust the values for inflation, and create a savings and investment plan. But as every insurance agent would tell you, there are so many things that could happen to me and my loved ones that are not in my control. What if...

What if I get a chronic illness and can't work anymore? What if my parents get sick? What if my child need to go to a special needs school or an overseas university education? What if all of this were to happen at the same time?

This is our inner storyteller on steroids, and could go on ad infinitum. And the first awakening came to me when I realized what a strange idea it was that peace will come only when we have enough money to cover the full set of possibilities that could ever go wrong. At this rate, no amount of money would ever be enough and would only feed even more worry and bring continual struggle inside. The more I could see that my storyteller was driven by fear, judgement, and despair, and that I had a choice to move towards joy and healing, the more its visits became shorter.

Over time, I've also noticed that building security downstream at a financial level creates many negative externalities on a systemic level which in turn creates a negative feedback loop. For example, because everybody is chasing "financial security", and money has been invested in the most profitable corporations to achieve it, we now have to deal with climate change, a global widening income gap that is a ticking time bomb, and businesses trying to cut cost in all kinds of ways that in turn compromises real safety in the recent incidences of air travel, or the quality of food we put into our mouth. And with these threats that are increasing and confronting, we start hoarding even more, because even more security is now needed.. to what end?

I am reminded of a Thanksgiving party that I will never forget. My host, Leo, had moved from France to Portland to practice natural medicine and was hosting me on her couch during my stay. She had opened her home to everyone in the community, which was especially meaningful for other immigrants who didn't have their family close by. There were brightly colored lanterns, folks playing on the fiddle, singing and merry-making, which made for the most festive atmosphere! And then, an elderly gentleman came waltzing through the door with a huge smile while holding out a big bunch of carrots with its roots still dripping with soil, "Happy Thanksgiving!" he roared. In our conversations, he described his work, "Every single day, I cycle around growing and giving people their food to bring smiles, what could be a better job?". It was the first time I learnt about community-supported agriculture and the natural healers in the community. He proclaimed proudly that because of the food he eats and the collective wisdom of the community, he has not fallen ill in the last 30 years.

Might financial security perhaps be just one kind of security that is an externally-oriented quest for happiness? Maybe we should start turning the question around - Instead of finding security in money, what really DO we want to find security in? How much of it is found in money? Is it in being part of a community of such rich culture, talents, and gifts? Is it in our ability to grow our own food or make the stuff we need? Is it in the warm embrace of people we love? Is it in our own minds?

How can we start building real security in a way that's regenerative instead of exploitive? In a way that creates a virtuous positive feedback loop where less and less security will be needed over time?"

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Comments (2)

  • Aryae Coopersmith wrote ...

    Min -- awesome! This conversation is so needed in the world today. I'm so delighted that you're doing this, and look forward to seeing it continue to unfold.

  • Sheetal wrote ...

    Enjoyed this note.. Had some aha moments.. Gratitude for this sharing!