We live in a sea of beliefs and assumptions that govern how we see the world. Implicit and unspoken, they subtly determine all aspects of our lives. When we act on the basis of these beliefs, our actions are programmed by them and the results we obtain reflect them.
As we objectify our thoughts through our actions, the outer world reflects our inner convictions, creating an experiential loop that is self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing. Only exceptional individuals can break out of these pervasive patterns. But what if the core assumptions on which we base our actions are wrong? We create the world in our image whether our images are hopelessly distorted or pristinely accurate.
How False Money Myths Work
Many convictions about money that are common in our society are as fallacious as the most ridiculous superstitions of our ancestors, yet most people accept them without question. These myths, widely assumed to be true, control how we perceive and relate to money.
I call these widespread assumptions about money the false money myths. They are held both consciously and unconsciously and are taught to us by our parents, teachers, friends, role models, and the entertainment media. These false money myths control our behavior without our realizing it.
False money myths are not just personal beliefs; they are a fog that surrounds our whole society. By recognizing false money myths we take the first step to freeing ourselves from their influence. Let's look at the five basic forms false money myths take.
Myth #1: Money Brings Happiness
The myth that money brings happiness is the most obvious and widely held of all. Common expressions that exemplify this belief are: If only I had more money, I'd be happy. Money talks. When I'm rich, I won't have to put up with this stuff. If I could win the lottery all my problems would be solved.
Myth #2: Money Measures Self-Worth
Issues of self-worth are closely related to happiness, power, and status. Money is the measure of success. I feel like people judge me according to the amount of money I have. I feel guilty because I have more money than other people.
Myth #3: Money Corrupts
Our society teaches in many subtle ways that we can have either principles or money, but not both. This idea that ideals and money are in opposite corners of the ring protrudes from the mass unconscious in many folk tales: Robin Hood, The Emperor's New Clothes, and Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
Our language contains many common expressions that exemplify the view that money corrupts: Filthy rich. He sold his soul. Money is the root of all evil. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.
Myth #4: Women Don't Understand Money
The limiting myths about women, money and power have been examined and have changed greatly in the United States in the past 30 years. For younger women who are college graduates, much of the old thinking is gone, but traces remain. Some women still see their opportunities as limited simply because they are women. And some women still define themselves by the men in their lives, and by the professions those men practice.
Here are some phrases that exemplify this myth: I'm just a housewife. The job market is unfair. They always pay us less. Your job is to find a good man to take care of you. Math is hard for women. A woman shouldn't be too smart of she'll drive men away. Women can't compete in the "old-boy" network.
Myth #5: Fighting For Our Share
The fifth money myth derives from the scarcity principle, the idea that there is not enough and that we have to fight for our share of a limited pie. This leads to the conclusion that we must always compete.
The annual U.S. budget farce -- a morality play and slapstick comedy rolled into one -- is the national manifestation of our individual conviction that the pie is limited. If we take money from one slice -- let us say, defense -- we will have more for another slice, perhaps health care. The pie is of finite size and if one slice gets bigger, another of necessity will shrink. So our national constituencies (the Secretary of Defense versus the Secretary for Health and Human Services) compete for a larger share of the budget in the same way that individuals in an office (Nora versus Sandy for Teresa's old job) compete for money and prestige.
The scarcity myth runs from top to bottom of our society. We look at the homeless people shivering in the street and feel that this is somehow connected with the limousine driving by. One person is of necessity getting less because another is getting more.
Common expressions that reinforce beliefs in scarcity and competition are: It's a dog-eat-dog world. You have to fight to survive. It's either him or me. A small group of people control all the money. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. It's a jungle out there. Heads I win, tails you lose. The world is not a friendly place. Welcome to the real world.
Deflating the Myths
Now: Why are these myths false? In each case, a little thought is all it takes to break the bubble of belief. The first myth, that money brings happiness, is perhaps the easiest to dispel. Think of the miserable rich royalty whose marriages crumble; tycoons whose children hate them; movie stars who resort to drugs to relieve stress. The opposite assertion, that money brings misery is just as false, for one could as easily find examples of wealthy people who are perfectly content with life. The fact is, we make ourselves happy or unhappy regardless how much money we have.
The myth that money brings self-worth is just as transparent. In fact, the reverse is more often true: people with a natural store of self-worth tend to attract money.
Does money corrupt? If that were so, then we would have a handy way to assess just how corrupt any given person is: simply look at his or her tax statement. The absurdity of the enterprise, and therefore of the myth, is obvious.
The idea that women don't understand money is so clearly tied to patriarchal, male-chauvinist attitudes as to require little comment. Certainly, many men have done everything in their power to prevent the women in their lives from having the opportunity to understand money. But that says nothing about women's inherent capabilities. In fact, one could make the case that many women have a more realistic understanding of money than most men do: instead of seeing it as something to accumulate indefinitely for its own sake, they tend to see money as a useful means for facilitating the inherently worthwhile experiences of life.
Sharing and Cooperating
Perhaps the hardest money myth to dispel is the last -- that we must fight for our share of a limited pie. After all, it's easy to point to examples in which scarcity seems to demand competition. And yet, when we take a larger view, it becomes apparent that these situations have been deliberately cast in competitive terms, either by ourselves or by others. We could just as easily recast the apparent problem in win/win, cooperative terms.
Indigenous peoples, before their cultures were affected by modern ones, knew that whenever there is a seeming shortage, the best path to survival is through sharing and cooperation. Their reasoning is simple: If our attitude is one of scarcity and competitiveness, we tend to waste our energies in trying to defeat our competitors instead of simply expressing and enhancing our own unique capacities for production or achievement.
In sum: Most situations of apparent scarcity are culturally engineered by our society's expectations and attitudes. Over all, there really is enough of everything to go around. but in isolated situations where there is a genuine, temporary shortage of some commodity -- whether it be money, time, or anything else -- the best way to remedy the lack is for all concerned to do their personal best and cooperate. Taking the stance of fighting for our share of a limited pie only contributes to the problem we are tying to solve.
Shovel Your Way Out
The false money myths are so pervasive that is takes most people a while to realize that they aren't self-evident truths; then, people are usually shocked to discover how riddled their thinking and language are with these ideas. If you still unconsciously believe these myths, then they are holding you back from the prosperity that is rightfully yours.
Money is simply a tool by means of which people do certain things. Tools are always designed for a particular use. The British economist, Sir Ralph Hawtery says: "Money is one of those concepts which, like a teaspoon or an umbrella, but unlike an earthquake or a buttercup, are definable primarily by the use or purpose they serve."
The shovel is a tool most of us have some experience with. What happens when we substitute the word shovel for the word money? Speak these sentences out loud and notice both the logic (or illogic) implicit in each statement and the feeling it evokes: Shovels bring happiness. Shovels corrupt. Shovels make the man. She only loves me for my shovels. The person with the most shovels wins. Time is shovels. Shovels make the world go around.
When you feel controlled by money or the lack of money, restate the way you are thinking and feeling using the word shovels. It will relieve your seriousness about money. Once you've loosened up, observe yourself and notice what is going on.
When we disassociate ourselves from our thoughts, emotions, actions and possessions, we have the freedom to view ourselves with objectivity and clarity. The truth can set us free.
The above was excerpted with permission of the publisher,
ARE Press, P.O. Box 656, Virginia Beach, VA 23451. ©1995.
Patricia Remele is a real estate entrepreneur who has worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Senate Finance Committee. She currently does private prosperity counseling and resides in McLean, Virginia.