Everybody Else’s Biggest Problem: Recap of Act Two

Welcome to the seventh and final installment of act two of author Ted Scofield’s series on […]

Mockingbird / 4.6.16

Welcome to the seventh and final installment of act two of author Ted Scofield’s series on everybody else’s biggest problem but your own. If you missed one or more of the previous installments, the entire series can be found here.


After establishing in Act One that we as a society cannot agree on a collectively applicable definition of greed, we moved on to examine a half dozen answers to the question Why. Why are we unable to define greed as a way that might include ourselves? Why is it always Everybody Else’s Biggest Problem?

Happiness. We cleared the lowest and most obvious hurdle first. We think accumulating money, and the stuff money can buy, makes us happy. As Dr. Julian Edney wrote in his book Greed: “By historical accounts this is a nation of persistent and resilient people with an unshakable mission: the pursuit of happiness. This idea of happiness is largely connected with wealth.” We learned that, beyond a comfortable income that keeps us out of poverty, money does not buy happiness; in fact, the most content people are the ones who give their money (and time) to others. But we’re all the exception to those rules, right? I would surely be happier if I just had some more…money!

Intelligence. Data show that we associate money with intelligence, and for good reason. Several studies show that income is correlated with intelligence. CNBC put it simply: Billionaires are Smarter, Study Says. Heck, our government uses wealth and income as proxies for intelligence in deciding who can invest in non-public stock. If having lots of money leads others to think we’re smart, then accumulating it – in any way possible – can’t be greed. At least not when we do it.

unnamed-1The American Dream. Since John Smith established Jamestown in 1607, the “American Dream” has been a quantifiable, material dream, measured by how much money, and the stuff money can buy, we possess. Few of us articulate the American Dream in spiritual or intellectual terms, and if we pretend otherwise, we’d prefer to pray, meditate and soul-cycle our way to enlightened mindfulness with a Range Rover parked in our mansion’s garage.

Health. Disturbing new data shows that the brain structures of children living in poverty are permanently altered, in negative ways, compared to middle-class and affluent kids. Moreover, adults with annual incomes over $90,000 are three times less likely to experience depression than adults earning under $36K. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Wealthy people are more confident, they believe they are more deserving, and they go forth and earn more wealth. The bottom line: Accumulating cash has positive health benefits for both us and our offspring; it just can’t be “greed.”

Media. Over the next week or so, while you’re watching television or a film, or reading a novel, make a point to notice how characters are portrayed. With few exceptions, you’ll see that wealthy people are portrayed far differently than their less socio-economically advantaged counterparts. Middle-class and rich fathers are depicted far more positively than working-class dads, for example. Also notice for whom you cheer, recalling the 1980’s film Pretty In Pink. Audiences rejected the original ending, when Molly Ringwald’s Andie ended up with the devoted and kind poor boy, Duckie. Andie ends up kissing the silver-spoon Blane in the spotlight of his BMW’s high beams. Why do we want the girl to end up with the rich guy? Do we unconsciously self-identify with one type of character over another? Do we long to be a part of the “in crowd,” what C.S. Lewis referred to as the Inner Ring?

The Self. Oprah said, “I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.” In my opinion that might as well be the mantra of 21st century America, the core of our new creed. Our “rugged individualism” is no longer embodied by Amelia Earhart flying solo across the vast ocean. Today the mindful individual is too busy building a wall around the Island of Me. “In the gospel of authenticity, well-being has become the primary goal of human life … an end in itself … that doesn’t really require a belief in anything.” And well-being requires money, the more the better, we tell ourselves, so that cannot be greed (when I do it, of course). But let’s ask the tough question: Are we living up to our well-tuned vision of ourselves? Let’s meditate on it, maybe do a weekend cleanse. And, of course, don’t forget the Xanax!

In Act Three of this exploration of greed, we’ll get to the heart of the matter. We can’t define greed in a way that might include ourselves. We won’t define greed in a way that includes ourselves because it goes against our pursuit of happiness, our own perceived intelligence and actual health, how the media portrays our beloved fantasy playmates, and our collective and individual sense of self. Greed must be everybody else’s problem; our very national and spiritual identity depends on it. Let’s figure out what’s changed, and whether or not we can do something about it.