Tuesday, March 04, 2014

What's just as intimate as sex?

I really like this essay in Forbes called "The Intimacy of Money."

When I lead workshops on personal philanthropy - helping individuals and groups give away their money in ways that reflect their passions and interests - I always like to start with an "OK, let's talk about money" session. People REALLY don't like talking about money. And I find that the more money people have, the less they like to talk about it.

Why is this subject so taboo in our (American) culture? Is it because we use it to assess people's value, or importance? Is it because we were raised to not talk about it, so we continue that tradition? Is it because we feel uncomfortable if we have less "stuff" (money, material goods, etc.) than others in our social circle, and we feel even more uncomfortable if we have more "stuff" than others? Is it because we have anxiety or fear about not having enough money, and if we talk about it openly, we will be showing our weakness? Are we embarrassed about having more than we think we deserve?

In this Forbes essay, the author starts by saying:

Money is like sex: Americans are taught it should be private, discussed only in hushed tones, 
behind closed doors.

And, yet, our society seems more and more willing to bring our sex lives out into the open, whether that's in TV and movies, magazines, or just cocktail party chit-chat. Are we willing to discuss money - what we have, what we need, where we give it away (both willingly and unwillingly) - just as openly?

We all have to spend money on things we don't like, and on some level we may always feel that we don't have enough money. Some of us truly are living paycheck to paycheck due to circumstances beyond our control, and others are sweating every last dime due to circumstances entirely within our control. "Disposable income" is a tricky thing - one person's disposable is another person's essential. That said... most of us have the privilege of making at least some decisions about where our money should go and how it should be spent. If you've bought a $4 cup of coffee any time recently, you've got a choice.

For those of us who are able to make those choices, until we come to terms with our relationship to money it will always feel like the Big Bad Wolf, ready to strike and wreak havoc at any moment. It will remain a mysterious force for us to fear, rather than a resource or tool that we can use, and about which we can make choices. Including philanthropic choices.

So what does it mean to come to terms with our relationship with money? I think it starts by asking some questions, such as:
  • How do I feel when someone says "we need to talk about money"? What goes through my mind? Does my body react?
  • What messages did I get about money from my family?
  • Which of my life choices have been driven by money? Which have not?
  • How do I feel when I know I have more money than a friend? When I know I have less?
  • How do I spend money to make myself feel better?
  • When does spending money make me feel worse?
  • How do I really feel about giving money to help a cause or another person?
I've had my own struggles with these questions, and I'm still coming to terms with some of them. What are some of your answers to these questions?