A friend of mine has said that most of America’s ills are caused by greed- people wanting more and more wealth, not caring so much about others and how much they have. As I have learned more about how our country functions, I have come to believe that he’s at least partially right. Greed is involved in many of the ills of our society. From CEO's who are taking a lion's share of company wealth to rich people lobbying for tax relief, from companies moving their money out of the country to companies buying up water in parched land, we need to check what we're doing and why. And stop doing it!
Greed seems to me to have many psychological causes and nuances. One person’s greedy feelings and needs are totally different from another’s. I thought I’d try to identify some of the ones I’ve experienced and seen, and ask others to post what they observe. This post is entitled “greedy parts of ourselves” because that’s where we all need to start. It’s about raising consciousness in our country. When we change our own minds about things it starts the ball rolling.
For me, when I have wanted more money it was often about providing for my children. I wanted them to have the best toys, books, lessons, housing, trips and education I could provide. I even owned a house with an in-ground pool (in Minnesota, no less!) so they would be happy. I loved them so much I couldn’t imagine them not having what they needed or wanted. I think many other people do this too. Some of us have grown up feeling somewhat deprived and vowed not to do that to our children. Others of us were given a lot as children and want to live up to that and more for our children. In movies the father is always saying “I did it for you” when explaining his striving to make more and more money. I believe this is one cause for seeming greediness- it isn’t for us, it’s for our kids.
Healing this pattern is difficult, because many of us get irrational around child-rearing issues. One thing that has helped me was to do some deep breathing and ask myself if this was really about the child, or about my own childhood. Those parts of me that were trying so hard to make my kids happy could then relax a bit, realizing it wasn’t as much of a life or death need and more of an “extra” that could be done without at that moment. Of course, this doesn’t apply to people who are just trying to give their children the basics of food, clothing and education. Then it isn’t causing greed, it’s probably just causing despair and hopelessness.
Another pattern I’ve experienced and observed is trying to live up to what I see happening around me. If other people have nice things, go on great vacations, or spend money on new gadgets then I sometimes want that also. Human beings instinctively imitate others in order to learn, which advertisers take to the nth degree in the things they show us. It has sometimes helped me and others to actually stop looking at those ads, and to consciously make decisions about where we want our money to go rather than being unconscious and mimicking others.
We humans also tend to be competitive and to stretch ourselves in what we can do and attain. So there is a tendency for people, especially those at the top end of scales, to try to get higher and higher. This can also be reinforced by the amount of responsibility someone has. If you get to the top of a corporation or company there is a tendency to compete in the income arena also- people think they work so hard, have so much pressure and responsibility that they are worth more to the company. And they will go somewhere else if they don’t get that much money (even though they don’t really need more money to live on). This viewpoint is very much reinforced by society, so it’s hard to contradict. One way to do that might be for people to trade time for money- many working people say they would like more time off and be willing to take less money for it. It also might be good to do internal work on the competitive and stressed inner parts that are driving this. Finding out what they are trying to prove, what past shortcoming they might be trying to negate, and then healing those will help to lessen this inner competitiveness.
Last but not least is the impulse to achieve in the present to overcome shame from the past. I know I have perfectionist parts that are still trying to prove my mom wrong- I’m not the lazy, incompetent person she sometimes told me I was. We all have things in the past that we are trying to deny, forget, or disprove. Gathering wealth is one way people do that. The more the better. Billionaire is better than millionaire. The tallest building is better than being second. If we just do this one more thing better, or more, or perfectly, then hopefully we’ll feel like we’re valuable and loved. This, too, is something that can be worked with on the inside of ourselves. If we heal those parts that are driving us, we can finally relax and realize we’re good enough.
I don’t really know anyone who is super rich, but I can imagine that there is more of all of these things in that case- more trying to make children happy, more trying to live up to the things others have, more competition, and more temptation to make ourselves feel less ashamed through wealth and belongings. My impression is that the competition, especially, kicks in at those levels. Buying corporations and buildings can seem like a competitive game, and winning seems like a “high”. Getting congress to write laws just for them is part of the game, and it’s easy not to think about who might get hurt if things go their way.
I hope we can find ways to heal our greedy parts, and that this helps our society to become more equal and less frantic. This is one of my many hopes for America. It is important for the future of our country and our world.
I am an emotional healing coach, and also a certified teacher. In this blog I'll talk about emotional challenges and how to survive them using Internal Family Systems concepts and skills..