3 Man Killers: Money

by schaefer on August 26, 2008 · 29 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

Integrity is the foundation of a great man and once it is broken, it can never be completely restored. Like a an ornament that has been shattered into a million pieces, it can be glued back together, but when held up to the light, the cracks are still clearly seen.

Three specific areas, money, sex and power, have preyed on the integrity and claimed the lives of thousands of great men throughout history. While beneficial when viewed and handled properly, these three areas have a unique way of warping into something quite toxic, a sort of man poison, and the ripple effect can be tremendous. These man killers leave a terrible path of carnage: careers ended, families ripped apart, hearts broken and potential wasted.

It is not a matter of if you will face temptations in each of these areas, it is a matter of when. You can say, “It won’t happen to me,” and become another man taken down in his prime, or you can set up systems in your life that increase your chances of finishing strong with your integrity intact.

We start this three part series on the topic of MONEY.

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” proclaimed Gordon Gecko, in the 1987 movie classic, “Wall Street.” He went on to explain that greed had been the source for human progress. There is no doubt that many great inventions and breakthroughs came as a result of greed, but the problem with greed is that it always ends up making you do things you wouldn’t normally do.

Greed has a funny way of making integrity and moral boundaries seem much more flexible or even non-existent. Lying, cheating, stealing all become normal methods of operation rather than despicable acts. And in the end, the emptiness is still not filled. Take for example the culture of Enron just before its downfall (warning some adult language):

Notice the attitude of these traders. Who cares who gets hurt as long as I’m getting mine, as long as I’m moving up the ladder.

Most of us watch this video and say, “There is no way that I would ever be like that!” But greed, like other destructive vices often comes about slowly, subtly, without any signs that would cause alarm bells to ring.

Money itself is not bad nor is the desire to make money. Money is a necessary part of life, it’s just the way the system works. It’s a tool, and tools are neither good nor bad; their value rests in how they are used. Many people misquote the Bible as saying, “Money is the root of all evil.” But the verse actually posits that it is “the love of money” which is the problem. The man trap begins when we start defining ourselves by our material possessions – believing that money and its trappings are the answer to our happiness. It’s a small, but deadly twist in our natural desire as men to be providers and industrialists.

The problem with defining ourselves by what we have is that we never have enough.

There will always be someone that has more money, a bigger house, a newer car and cooler toys. We convince ourselves that if we could just have a few of those things we would be happy, the race would be over and we would be content.

But, it never happens. Even when we get the house of our dreams, soon a new neighbor moves in next door and builds a castle that would make the Royal Family jealous. And the cycle continues. Soon we find ourselves consumed by money, the slave, rather than the master.

Tolstoy once wrote a short story concerning greed in which a man named Pahom was given a wonderful, but unusual, opportunity to acquire some land. For a thousand rubles he was told that starting at sunrise he could walk around as large an area of land as he wanted and by nightfall, if he had reached his starting point, he would be given the amount of land his path had encircled.

Driven by his lust for land, Pahom rushed far away from his starting point, trying to gain more land than he could handle and ignoring signs that perhaps he was going too far. At the end of the day, the sun begins to set and Pahom attempts to rush back, realizing the seriousness of his error. But he is too late and drops dead a very short distance from his starting point, just as the sun sets. The story then reads, “His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”

Like Pahom, we often get caught up by the desire to add more, but in the end greed costs more than it gains.

So how does one go about keeping their hearts and hands clean in the area of money? The following are three simple, but highly effective immunizations:

1) Be Careful – Money is powerful. It’s allure can lead men to do things that breech their integrity and eventually ruin their lives. So it makes sense to be on guard. Being careful involves consciously monitoring your attitude towards the money in your life. Are you feeling desperate to earn more, constantly anxious that you don’t have enough, or jealous of others’ success? Your heart might be going down a slippery slope.

As much as we try to be aware of ourselves, it is always best to have friends and family that can act as mirrors for us. Ask those closest to you to tell you when they think your attitude is changing in regard to money and things. It may not always be the most comfortable question to ask, but it’s much better to catch a problem early than save your pride and fall hard later.

2) Be Generous – One of the best antidotes to greed is giving. There is something incredible that happens in people’s hearts when they give their money or possessions to others in need. Suddenly, the things we couldn’t live without aren’t so important after all. Giving keeps us from clinging onto our possessions too strongly.

I like to think of being generous as practicing being rich. Many people justify their lack of giving by citing insufficient funds. “I would give if I had more money,” is the common logic. The reality is, if you are not giving in your poverty, you will never give in your wealth. Generosity is a habit that must be cultivated, it doesn’t just spring up when the bottom line hits a certain level. People who don’t realize this often become even more greedy and less generous as their standard of living increases. So give early, give often.

3) Be Thankful – Several years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Thailand after the tsunami as part of a relief team. The devastation was everything you would imagine and more. Villages completely wiped off the map, families of 5 or 6 people now down to 1 or 2, and lots of nightmares.

But, what struck me most was not the horror of the event, but the incredible spirit of generosity embodied by the refugees we met. People who had lost everything they owned tried to scrape together a few things to share with us as we went about rebuilding their homes. If anyone had an excuse to hoard their possessions and be a little greedy, it was these people. Yet, they were generous and gave us food, water, etc. with a smile on their face.

These refugees were richer than most Americans I knew, not in money or possessions, but in spirit. They understood that even after their lives were torn apart, they still had something they could be thankful for and something to give. This left a tremendous impact on me as I looked at my life and all of the incredible things I had been blessed with. It made me intensely thankful to live where I did, with the people I lived with and for the opportunities I had been afforded.

And maybe that’s where greed falls short causing us to look outside at money and things rather than inside. At physical wealth rather than the wealth of the spirit. In looking to money for fulfillment and happiness we always come up short, it simply can’t do the job. The sooner we understand this the sooner we can truly conquer greed.
Part 2: 3 Man Killers: Power
Part 3: 3 Man Killers: Sex

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Writer Dad August 26, 2008 at 9:21 pm

Greed is like cancer. It’s deadly, an no one is immune.

2 Jason August 27, 2008 at 3:09 am

Wow, did you hear them say in the video that California is “America’s largest state”? Morons! Alaska is America’s largest state.

3 Peter James August 27, 2008 at 3:44 am

I used to be in the mortgage business, and I can tell you money is a crazy evil. I could not believe the things people were willing to do for a few thousand dollars. Of course, it is all catching up to everyone now, but still, the idea that these people were blinded to the path they were on still boggles my mind. This is not just a Man Killer. I saw plenty of Women with the same savage money hungry eyes as the guys.


4 Mark August 27, 2008 at 3:56 am

Very good article. I am definitely looking forward to the rest of the series.

@Jason – I don’t remember the mention of CA being the largest state, but perhaps they meant by population (which it is) and not by land mass.

5 money lover August 27, 2008 at 4:27 am

“Integrity is the foundation of a great man and once it is broken, it can never be completely restored. Like a an ornament that has been shattered into a million pieces, it can be glued back together, but when held up to the light, the cracks are still clearly seen.”

i guess no one had any hope then. after the first paragraph i realised i wouldn’t need need to read the rest of the article.

6 Keith August 27, 2008 at 4:29 am

I also look forward to the rest of the series. Good article.

7 Granata August 27, 2008 at 5:18 am

Nice work. This is an issue that I constantly have to keep in front of me. I’ll be sure to talk with my closest friends about helping me keep my motives in check. Thanks for writing.

8 Success Professor August 27, 2008 at 5:43 am

Very good post. Your three step solution is bang on. Thankfulness and generosity are two success principles that are important in putting money in its proper place. Not only that, but by being thankful and generous you will have a happier life and likely more success because of it.

I have to stay I started reading this article with a negative point of view because of your first line. I think integrity can be restored eventually. That is where the power of forgiveness comes in. Forgiveness from God and from others does provide the opportunity to restore integrity. In fact, I think that it is impossible for a man to live every moment with integrity. We will always fail and come up short of the ideals we are called (and call ourselves) to live. It is because of forgiveness that we are able to continue forward – restored – and not be crippled by every failing we have.

9 Cameron Schaefer August 27, 2008 at 6:30 am

@ Money Lover and @ Success Professor,

When I say that you will always see the cracks, I simply meant that someone will always be able to say, “Yeah, but remember that time when….” The best example of this is the current political races. Instances where they didn’t act with integrity are brought up 30 years after the fact. There’s no such thing as a secret. Is this right? Not necessarily, but it’s the reality of life.

Also, when you break your integrity once, it is much easier to do a second or third time. You are left weaker because of it.

I believe in complete forgiveness. I just think that a drug addict that starts a relationship with God and radically changes his life will still need to avoid drugs more than the guy that never struggled with them.

10 Brett August 27, 2008 at 7:39 am

Great post Cameron.

While your first lines are stark, they simply reveal the reality of life. You can’t ever fully restore your integrity, at least in the eyes of those around you. If you are a religious man, you can seek forgiveness for your blunders, and feel personally restored, but the cracks will still be visible to others. I think the example of politicians is an excellent one. For example, some people can’t look past McCain’s post-war philandering, and although it happened several decades ago, it still hurts his claims to integrity. You can build up a mountain of integrity, only to have it shattered by one mistake. This is no reason to be hopeless though. While it is true that all men will mess up, it is simply a matter of whether these mistakes will be small or large, frequent or rare. And it is certainly possible for every man to keep them as small as possible and as rare as possible.

11 Darren August 27, 2008 at 8:26 am

Another great post! I have come to understand a great secret; if you’re willing to wait for gratification, work hard and save up, then you can have anything you want. But what good are posessions, if you can’t look at yourself in the mirror!

12 Kevin (ReturnToManliness) August 27, 2008 at 12:29 pm

Excellent article. I started writing a detailed comment that opposes some of the items in it, but then I read it again to make sure I was getting everything I should.

Nothing to add, other than fantastic article. I have always believed greed is good. I will always believe it to be true, but nothing ever is in absolutes.

Greed is good, but…. and your article tackles the rest of the statement…

13 Bruce August 27, 2008 at 5:27 pm

This article showed a lot of insight and wisdom. Very much counter to the prevailing materialism and greed of our culture. It gives hope for the future of our country that one your age (and in law school!) should think this way. I too, look forward to the next two articles.

14 Dave August 28, 2008 at 4:40 am

They did say California is the largest state. I think Texas is bigger than California too.

I’d say part of being carefull with money is also making a budget for your expenditures, and sticking with it.
Giving really is a great thing. You don’t even have to give money or possessions, you can just do something or help people who can’t help themselves.

15 BOOMER August 28, 2008 at 12:16 pm

The measure of integrity is not whether you have been tempted and stumbled, because we will all be tempted and we will all fail at one point or another. The heros who never fail exist only in fiction and mythology.

The measure of a man is how he responds when tempted and how he changes when he fails. The right response?

Humility, accept responsibility, make amends, changing your ways, doing good, moving forward. This is the message of history, philosophy and spirituality throughout the ages.

You use the analogy of a broken ornament. I would argue that the re-glued pieces are stronger than the original, pristine ornament. The bonds welded during adversity and failure strengthen the man for his future journey.

Even the most righteous man stumbles. But even if he stumbles 70 times he will rise. This is the mark of a good man.

16 James Cassell August 28, 2008 at 4:07 pm

This may be a stab in the dark, but it could be that those who have almost nothing are more generous with that which they do have, because they could conceviably regain it back in a short period of time. On the other hand, if Bill Gates (or choose your favorite rich person) were to give out half of his fortune, he would have almost no chance of regaining it.

But like I said, the above is probably a stab in the dark.

I can’t wait for the next part of this series!

17 Chris August 28, 2008 at 9:59 pm

Really good and easy to read article. I wrestle with the desire to make more money than I do–I think a lot of people do. I know is won’t solve everything, but it seems like it will make it easier. The problem is when you get caught up in the chase, other things in your life fade to the background.

18 RustySharpedge August 29, 2008 at 6:58 pm

I don’t know that I’ve thought this point out very well, but there seems to be a Money = Security formulation that’s pretty hardwired into our brains here in the U.S., maybe in other cultures as well.

Fear of poverty and homelessness drives us all to some degree, but I imagine that intense fear of poverty and homelessness can drive some of us to acquire far, far beyond what we really need materially in the here and now. The author’s example of the tsunami victims and their generousity shows what is possible when people have nothing left to lose.

I wonder how the greed therapists out there (do they exist?) treat the root insecurities that can drive greedy behavior.

19 JD August 29, 2008 at 9:25 pm

@ Jason and Dave
Yes they did say CA was the largest state, but what is the context they are talking about? Probably largest by population not geography and therefore electrical power which would be required. Also I had read somewhere that if CA was its own country it would have a GDP ranked 9th in the world.

20 Ptitz August 30, 2008 at 7:49 pm

Im constantly broke and im ok with that.

21 Forrest September 1, 2008 at 6:18 am

“The reality is, if you are not giving in your poverty, you will never give in your wealth.”

The reality is, if you are giving in your poverty, the chances are very high that you won’t need to worry about what you will do in your wealth, for that day will never come. Everyone should go read Your Money Or Your Life for the idea of the crossover point, the point at which your income from investments reaches the same level as your monthly expenses. That’s the point of money meaning independence. After that point, you can begin practicing generosity, and should. Poor people have the deck stacked against them– ordinary living expenses being so high a proportion of their income, for example– quite enough, without adding to the burden by adding deliberate social pressure to be generous to the passive social pressure we all feel already.

22 AMManess September 4, 2008 at 3:13 pm

I think this was quoted in one of your other posts… maybe on virtues. However, I think it bears repeating here.

“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your f@#king khakis.”
Tyler Durden
Fight Club

I think our society puts too much emphasis on defining ourselves by greed and the things we buy. We almost worship the ideas of accumulating wealth and the materialist things we seek. Those who have mass amounts of wealth, who are greedy, and have the latest toys are those we come to believe as the most knowledgeable… we worship them too. Are people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet people that we should seek to be? Do they have more to say then the average citizen who struggles to get buy? Does one have more integrity than the other?

Along the same lines with what you wrote here, I am reminded of something I read by the Dahlia Lama when speaking on how materialism binds us to this life and will never set us free. He said that when people seek to buy things they never consider the long term problems that go along with buying something. For example, people want the most fancy car, so they get a loan to buy it. Now they have a car payment. The tires and breaks need to be replaced. The oil needs to be changed. Then the car breaks down and they have to fix it. This causes stress in their life because they likely did not plan for the time or place that the car broke down. This has financial consequence, if the person did not plan. It impacts the family and the family has to sacrifice. Then many years later, the car is old faded, and broken. The person want a new car. Thus the cycle starts again.

I think the same can be said for greed. People want more and more, but never consider the impact of such desires. It used to be, we acquired wealth to support our family. Send the kids to school, buy a nice house (not the most fancy), and live in a neighborhood with good people. Now, it often appears to be a competition for more and more. So, we desire the biggest house, car, pool, boat, etc, and the kids can’t go to school. We have a mortgage payment that is too much and equity in the house that is nil. The neighborhood does not contain nice people b/c everyone is competing for the best this or the best that. Even bigger, the consequences of greed effects our society as a whole. We are the best nation because we have the most. However, that impacts our relationship with other nations. It effects the perceptions people from other nations have about us individually. And etc.

I guess I am starting to ramble. But more people need to stop and consider what you have said.

23 Kevin October 8, 2008 at 5:34 am

interesting article

24 Loki October 15, 2008 at 8:20 pm

Great post. Good article. It’s a shame that not many people in this world understand this concept. We are now living in a time and suffering from a financial crisis that was caused by greed. Greed has brought down the entire American investment banking business. A great deal of paper wealth has just vanished out of thin air over the past 12 months and the main cause of this has been greed.

There is a Chinese proverb that roughly translates as “Greed will lead to Poverty.” The world has just proven to me that this proverb is true.

Keep up the good work.

25 james October 17, 2008 at 7:25 pm

@Writer Dad
click here for business

26 Klemanius October 25, 2008 at 6:37 pm

Very interesting article. This is among the most informative sites Ive discovered on the net, keep up the good work, It really is a shame that male etiquette isn’t taught in schools anymore, for I have surely missed some important life lessons.

I am still a firm believer in greed is good, but there is good and bad greed and it is always important to act in moderation.
I view good greed as a driver, that basic desire to strive and seek something better and the means to achieve it, this is what I try to practice in my life.
Bad greed is an excess, where one prays on the weaknesses of others, or allows themselves to be blinded to reality and leads only to failure. I believe your article made some excellent points about this kind of greed.

27 Ravi December 17, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Money, while considered by many as evil, can be also a source for many good acts. I like the definition of bad greed as being in love for money and……. Many of us do things to fulfil our non-greedy financial goals (e.g. retirement planning), but does that mean we are greedy. For me greed amounts to doing “unethical” things to fulfill financial goals. Again what does “unethical” mean? It may have individual, organizational, community or global perspectives.

28 george February 12, 2010 at 3:15 pm

soooooooo true

29 Donny April 23, 2013 at 5:40 pm

“If you are not giving in your poverty, you will never give in your wealth.” I really like that.

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