Greed Vs Ambition
“Money, money, money x3, if you’re broke, I’m sorry” the lyrics of a 2010 hip hop song featuring some of our favourite artists — What is it about money that gets everyone’s blood pumping? What forms the innate desire within us to constantly aspire to be wealthier? Even in the current climes where we are more divided than ever as a global society, the subject of money is one in which we still share a common opinion. Whilst there is an old saying “more money, more problems” the growing consensus in recent times is money solves all problems often backed by biblical scripture without context (money answereth all things…). Consequently, we all seem to be on an endless pursuit to accumulate wealth. We need to ask ourselves; Does wealth really lead to true happiness, joy or fulfilment? Will all our problems really be solved? To understand this, one must start with the question what is money and what’s its purpose?
Money in its simplest form is a medium of economic exchange, means of expressing value, thus facilitating trade and stands as the key measure for wealth. The progression of money (bank notes) as a means of exchange originated with trade by barter, evolving to coins (precious metal) and now paper money. Historically, paper money represented a form of IOU with the real value being precious metal such as gold. What we have now post the gold exchange standard era, is simply fiat money. This is simply paper money not really backed by anything but holds value through the concept of legal tender. This means that money represented by a currency is the acceptable means of commerce in its respective jurisdiction. What gives fiat money value is the credibility of the issuer which is the government and the faith its users place in the system. To prove this, you only need to examine Zimbabwe where all faith in the legal tender was lost due to political and economic mismanagement which led to hyperinflation. The Zimbabwean dollar lost all value and was abandoned as the official currency in 2009. Consequently, “money” in which as a society we are increasingly making the centre of our existence, is simply just paper should society lose all faith in the system.
So why are we constantly trying to amass money, or should I say paper; Included in the definition of money is its standing as the principal measure of wealth. Why do we need to measure wealth? Is there any real value to be gained in being wealthier than your neighbour, are we all in competition with one another and if so, what is the prize for winning? These are all questions we need to ask ourselves as we go through this journey called life. The answers to these questions will guide our actions; if we are going to live a life driven by ambition or fuelled by incessant greed.
In reality we are actually not in competition with anyone except ourselves, we all have our unique gifts and talents. The real goal is to be the best version of yourself with the talents you have been given — this is ambition. It is fired by the need to drive positive change, live impactful lives, leaving an environment in a better condition than when you arrived. Ambition is not selfish or seeking personal glory or validation. The truth is we all struggle with this because we have been consumed by the customs of the world. We live in a place in time where success is defined or measured by titles, status and material items. As a result, we constantly believe the deception and are constantly chasing after worldly material desires in the belief that it’s the evidence of our success. This is greed or selfish ambition fuelled by self-centred cravings.
The deception is so beautifully fabricated such that you experience stints of happiness in various short-term periods after each material acquisition or the attainment of a higher status, but when a holistic view is taken over a longer period, one quickly realizes that the happiness was short lived. If your sole motivation is to accumulate wealth, acquire material objects and increase social status; true happiness/Joy and contentment will continue to elude you because these desires know no boundaries and can never be fully met. You will constantly seek to be the largest in the room, constantly comparing yourself to others, seeking validation from others, it will drive every decision you make across all spectrums of your life (career, relationship, finances, family), you unknowingly begin to live for others instead of for yourself, it’s a slippery slope, a rat race to the bottom.
“Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness” — Ecclesiastes 5.10
The effects of greed on an individual can be slow but focus mainly around blurring one’s vision between what is right and wrong, slowly there is no longer black or white but an endless field of grey. The end begins to justify the means which leads to a false ideology of what is morally permissible. You begin to see life as a zero-sum game in which for one to rise someone else must fall. This ideology is increasingly consuming both private and public sector leaving society as a whole, worse off.
“For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind” — James 3.16
Part of the problem is as a society; We are increasingly being influenced by our environment (worldly customs). What is believed to be entertainment such as music, movies, sports, media is driving us into a life of selfish ambition. This is partly why majority of our content on social media paint a false sense of security and achievement, living a lie. Why does Forbes magazine rank billionaires, sports/movie stars by wealth, to what end? Whilst love is the most popular theme in music, the subject of money and wealth is a close second. The opulent lifestyle of our favourite sporting/movie stars is something we all follow. Digesting such grotesque information daily, it is no surprise we all exhibit symptoms of greed.
“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the father in you. For the world offers only a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the father but are from this world” — 1 John 2.15–16
Endeavor not to fall for the deception, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made with our individual unique gifts and talents to fulfil specific purpose. We are not competing with anyone other than the best version of ourselves.
Part II of this series will dive into some of the wealthiest individuals, history has to offer and will shed some light on their perspective of the subject of wealth.