Sunday, May 10, 2015

In God We Trust. All Others Pay Cash (Part III)

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Viktor E. Frankl.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Reinhold Niebuhr

I have concluded that what we believe about ourselves and our money, the nature of the workplace and the marketplace, as well as the assumptions we make about the motivations of other humans trapped here with us in the material world is far more important than our actual physical situation. There are motivations implicit in our belief system that leads to behaviors that are either productive or unproductive. In writing the last two posts, I have spent some time examining my personal meta-narrative, the overarching story that I believe explains what is happening to me and to others. For whatever reason, it seems that I have been chosen to study and teach in the area of personal finance. This same technique can be applied to the issues of life that are far more important and more private than money.

Your meta-narrative is nothing more than a collection of thoughts. There are many things in this world I can’t control. However, I can change my thoughts. Spend some time listening to the stories you tell yourself about life. Are they useful? Are they productive? Are they moving you closer to your dreams or are they a hindrance? Be honest with yourself. If your beliefs are not moving you closer to the person you want to become, you can change them.

When you change your mind, you will change your life.

If your thoughts tend to lead you in the general direction of one of the seven deadly sins, anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, or gluttony chances are there is something in your meta-narrative moving you in a bad direction.

To that list I would add fear and hatred of others. We all have our own personal boogey men, Democrats, evil rich people, bankers, Republicans, Christian fundamentalists, Muslims, welfare cheats, the list goes on and on. In The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The time you spend trying to make yourself a better person and the world a better place is time well spent. Time spent dividing the world into us and them, the good guys and the bad guys, leads to schism, hatred, and murder, sometimes on a global scale. Of course, there are times when we must make a stand against evil. However, if you find yourself sewing the seeds of discord, ask yourself what kind of harvest are these thoughts and words likely to produce.

It is also pretty easy to tell when your meta-narrative is serving you well. The classic list for Christians is found in Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” If what you believe about the world and your place in it is generating the fruit of the Spirit in your life, you are on the right path.

To that list I would add compassion and sympathetic joy. Pity is something that we extend to that poor person over there. Compassion is born of a sharing of hearts, an understanding that we are both in this together. If you can find joy in the success and happiness of another, even as you are suffering from the lack of what another possesses you are a pretty high level human being. Not many of us walk this path.

Too often we are imprisoned by our meta-narrative. It is a prison without bars, built brick by brick in our own minds. If you think you are in prison, you are in prison, even if you are free. Perhaps the saddest dimension to this problem is that we tend to like the prison cells we have constructed in our own minds. They are familiar, comfortable, and safe.

There is a better way. Even in prison, your mind can find a way to freedom.

The holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Victor Frankl, observed, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”

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