August 26, 2008

A Man's Life, On Manhood

3 Man Killers: Money

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.

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.
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Part 2: 3 Man Killers: Power
Part 3: 3 Man Killers: Sex


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