There used to be a social caution against discussing certain things among family and acquaintances: money, sex and religion. I'm not sure if that caution still exists, since these days people seem to open up about anything and everything with anyone and everyone. Still, as I look more deeply at my own reactions, I'm beginning to see why this list of three has the standing it does, or at least once did.
Today the issue for me is money. I recently found myself in a situation where I tried to avoid a money conversation only to have the other party insist on having it. And, just as I suspected, all of my usual negative responses sprang up almost instantaneously. Now I have to deal with the fallout I had so assiduously tried not to have to deal with. Shit happens, I know, so I'm not complaining.
What I find interesting is exploring the nature of the buttons that get pushed at such times. Top of the list would have to be the arbitrariness of the whole money thing. When someone who makes over two times what I make tells me they're really needing more money, I find I just don't want to hear about it. I'm sure someone who makes half of what I do doesn't want to hear about my financial "woes," either. The fact is that there is no standard of measure here. John's "poverty" is Marcia's "opulence." One person's "need" is seen by the other as just a "want." With each sentence of the interchange, the distance between the two parties grows as they slowly lose the glue of a common language. How could the conversation be anything but frustrating?
Because of its arbitrariness, money is a universal carrier for the greed, anger and ignorance that dog our every thought and action. I think of the lengths I've gone to to get more. I think of the contempt I've spewed toward the rich. I think of the pity I've spewed toward the poor (remember: pity ≠ compassion). I think of the clouded vision I've given rise to when putting price tags on the priceless. I think of the ego expansion that has gone on when more money came my way. I think of the ego crippling that happened when money was lost.
I am understanding more and more why men and women everywhere on this earth have, in the course of trying to chart a sane, insightful and moral life, felt inclined to deny money a place in that life. It isn't about avoiding being polluted by the coinage or the plastic card; it's about consciously denying fuel to the fires of our self-induced suffering.
Until I'm able to have a money discussion with as much equanimity and dispassion as a discussion about the number of light switches on a wall, I'm going to have to work really hard at watching my step.