Living in an “ER” Society

When I say “ER” I don’t mean Emergency Room, although we’re hearing all too much about those right now. I’m talking about our culture of comparisons.

We are wealthiER, poorER, fattER, thinnER; bettER or smartER than our neighbors, colleagues, friends and families. We check our progress and our level of success by how we stack up beside others in our sphere. Typically we compare ourselves to those who are closest to us.

The global pandemic has not changed our urge to compare, but it has demonstrated something that should be a key to the way a society determines its overall values: those who are “wealthiER” have become more dependent on those with much less wealth or status.

The person who delivers our groceries (because we’re fortunate enough to have access) is keeping us alive and well fed under lockdown.

The folks who drive trucks, stock grocery shelves and man the checkout lines have been deemed essential. Yet when it comes to money and status, these same people fall to the “lesser” rather than the “greater” end of the scale.

Comparisons are a part of what makes us productive; being aware of how we’re doing in the context of our world helps motivate us to strive, to improve, and to feel satisfaction with the outcomes we achieve.

However, when these measurements lead us to act in ways that denigrate or lessen others, then we should rethink our natural “instinct.”

When our primary motivation in life is to make more money for the sake of greater power, prestige or consumption, the results cannot be good for ourselves or for the world we live in.

The concept aligns with the idea of how much is enough—and what is the price of more? If having more allows someone to help others to a greater extent, great! But if having more comes at the expense of someone else having less or being less, that causes the kind of problems that are now coming to the surface in the Covid-induced economic downturn.

What is money? It’s a medium of exchange. It’s a concept, an illusion and an idea that works because everyone buys in to the idea and agrees. It can be a tool or a bludgeon. It can be used to help boost all of society or it can be used to divide us into haves and have-nots.

We don’t have to agree that the more we have the better.

This is an important conversation we should all be having in our own households with all of our family members right now.  Here are three key questions that can help fuel the conversation:

  1. What does money mean to each person involved?
  2. How would each of you define what it means to have “enough”?
  3. What role does charitable giving play in your thinking and planning?

Don’t be afraid to get really specific.

Use the conversation as the basis for a plan that provides for all of you, ensuring everyone’s financial security. Enact a plan that includes both savings and charitable commitments. Then conduct a periodic review—I recommend doing this quarterly—to chart your progress, looking at whether your money plan is moving you closer to the things you value most.

The global pandemic has highlighted the best and worst among us, from the hoarders and profiteers to the selfless healthcare workers and the amazing folks who deliver food to our doors.

We can—in fact we must—move away from the narrow thinking of “ER” to a greater awareness of what’s really most important to us. Let’s view this as an opportunity to push the reset button.