Money and Morality

The humorous British troupe known as Monty Python's Flying Circus presented in yet another one of their numerous and unapologetically excessive satiric TV sketches - "The Money Programme" a blue-suited host who kicks the show off with the following invitation: "Tonight on The Money Programme we're going to look at money. Lots of it. On film and in the studio." And it is with this invitation that the power of film and the workshop of the studio where the theater of success and "what makes the world go round" is taught again and again until it becomes the currency of our thoughts.

What fascinates the therapist working with people's problems is how much influence money has in every aspect of their lives. Money tends to be recognized as a reliable gauge for the success or effectiveness of people's decisions and also the precipitative factor in their collapse. When working with couples, almost every time what has prompted their entrance into therapy has been the fragmenting and undermining effects of money troubles upon the couple's now fragile relationship. And each partner's subsequent actions involving money will be used against the other as they immerse themselves deeper into the deteriorative stage of contempt. The couple engage in behavior characterized by either exorbitant purchases to medicate away the stress of the turbulent and stormy waves of the relationship that succeeds in angering and hurting the other or the withholding of financial help to pretty much achieve the same effect. It is a sad and extremely annoying thing to witness or to be updated regarding the latest financial skirmish between people who at one time allegedly committed their lives to one another. And when money - lots of money is being used as the ammunition in this War of the Roses, all bets are off. The wealthier the couple, the more capitalistic forces are summoned to unleash their wrath and incur emotional as well as financial damage. These tactical maneuvers are strategized and executed in an effort not to just inflict misery, but all to the purpose to even out the perceived imbalance and actually tip back into one's favor the monetary and moralistic scales. A virtual ledger holographically floats in the minds of the combatants.

In their 1999 book Philosophy in the Flesh, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson propose how we use metaphors to understand concepts. In one example, they identify how we draw on money metaphors when explaining the morality of actions or situations. If something hasn't paid off for us by turning out the way we hoped, many times people will confront us with the reason that we didn't invest enough in it. When others treat us with their generosity, we feel obligated to behave a certain way because we are in their debt. A common criticism directed at individuals who act entitled is that they possess an attitude like the world owes them something.

Inheritance is utilized to explain how we have internalized the character and temperament of our parents. Someone might comment, "I have inherited my father's bad habits as well as his strengths." In our work we are told by corporate management that we are an asset to the company. Holiday bonuses are distributed to maintain employee morale just enough to prevent turnover. Bonuses are given in the form of gift cards to purchase gifts for someone else. The flow of cash or cash flow seems to not only to determine the morality of activity, but also its health. Investing in a variety of relationships as well as material things (e.g., clothing, cars, houses) to further the cause of family, career, and economy, links the condition or soundness of social-political-economic indicators to purchasing power. And it is this cycle that seems to make the world go round until we are either thrown off by the increasing speed of becoming over extended or until the ride breaks down.

Our types of metaphors change even more when circumstances enter their crisis stage and eventual collapse. Relationships are described like cars as collisions, wrecks, and not getting anywhere to convey our various emotional states. And in these emotional states we pass through periods like economic downturns equated with a depression. As the dust settles, our tendency to equate our experience to other kinds of metaphors involves our skills for mathematical calculation. The aftermath is where we try to figure out what went wrong. In the midst of things just not adding up, people either put a great deal of effort into re-establishing themselves, remaining in the same cycles or finding loopholes.

Where the reliance on money metaphors becomes problematic is when the focus is locked into an expectation of reward. There is certainly nothing unconscious in one's motivations, even in taking risks because we are told they can offer a higher yield. Reasoning echoes religious logic of giving without expecting anything in return and yet it seems that anecdotes fall into the same formula of sacrificing and eventually receiving the recognition or retroactive compensation we always deserved.

Many surrender to the metaphysical founded on transcendental encounters mistaken for the confirmation of something beyond us making us celestial beneficiaries. As a therapist it has been a sad routine to witness individuals tormenting themselves with beliefs that inspire them to assume a role as in the 1993 film "Remains of the Day" where service only succeeds in making people lose themselves, blend into their surroundings and eventually fade without a trace.

What is empowering about the choice to take a risk to change is not that it allows one to embark on a path toward reward, but that it declares a bold "No!" to being exploited and taken advantage of. Change must be unshackled from its enslavement to the idea that it somehow means an increase in capacity, surpassing expectations, and generating more for those who benefit from our unquestioning compliance. Transformation does not stem from relinquishing control to where we find belonging or meaning or that which owns us. It emerges and takes shapes out of how we take ownership of our own voice, decisions, relationships, work, ideas, and this influences powerfully how we engage and collaborate. The revolutionary activity of overcoming business as usual is manifested in how we liberate ourselves from our own confinement.