Nobody starts out knowing anything about money. We all start out as tiny little helpless babies, and if we've survived and become literate, then we did it in a world of astonishingly magnificent abundance. Adults gave us food even when all we gave them in exchange was bodily fluids. Adults gave us shelter even when we kept waking them up all night long. Adults clothed us even when we spat up on them. Adults carried us from place to place and taught us to speak. By the time we learned to read, we had already accrued years of debt from unearned altruism. Part of the job of being an adult creature, of any species, is to repay that debt to future generations, to help them survive in the way that we were helped to survive. We pass it on.
We contribute to the world in one way or another. If we're meerkats, we do that by taking our turn at sentinel duty. If we're ravens, we alert the flock to the presence of a moose carcass. If we're humans (which I assume you are, but if you are a literate non-human, please, by all means PM me), we contribute to the economy in some way. It is virtually impossible to step outside of that constraint. I would argue that it IS impossible to step outside the economy, because if you save up and buy property to live off grid, you just lost the game, and that's assuming you didn't bring any supplies or materials produced by anyone else. Anyway. Whether we think money is involved or not, whether we think a job is involved or not, we're in the game. The better we get at understanding the rules of the game, the better a job we can do in participating. A meerkat should be a good meerkat. A raven should be good at being a raven, which may be different from being a "good raven." A human should be a good human, and contributing to the world is part of that.
We start to think in terms of net contribution. Am I smiling at others as often as they smile at me? Am I listening at least as much as I am talking? Am I helping at least as much as I am being helped? Am I producing as much as I am consuming? Am I providing value or extracting it?
Money is simply an abstract way of exchanging energy. We can use it to buy goods or services from anyone in the world, helping them to provide for their families, which we can only do in person if we live near them. We can use it to support performing artists who can't possibly visit every area where their fans live. We can use money to help people in charitable ways that we couldn't do even if they were our neighbors, lacking the skills or physical abilities they might need. Money can help us to act like incredibly fast and loudly cawing ravens or incredibly tall meerkats, helping the rest of our flock or band even when we've never met them.
We start to think of money as a way to give back to the world. Money is a way to share. Money is a way to make other people's lives better, and our own. We start to think that work at our maximum capacity for contribution is a great gift we can give.
When we're working at a level lower than we know we can, we're taking up someone else's spot. Someone else who can, at least right now, do no better than the job that we currently have. We have to get out of their way. We have to advance and make room. We probably have no idea whatsoever how much we can really do, but we do at least know that we have more to offer than the current job is using. This is like the wolf bringing home a shrew for her cubs while the owl's owlets wait in vain. Animals do better at adulthood than we do. They wake up and go straight to work because their survival is on the line. Not just theirs, but the future of their species. They don't have snooze buttons. They also don't have debt.
It would be nice to think that most of our contribution to the world is not fundamentally economic in nature. This may be true for parents of young children. The rest of us have something to prove. Are we really spending the majority of our free time comforting the sorrowful and caring for the sick and elderly? Are we spending our spare time teaching adult literacy? I know I'm not. My contributions are limited to the occasional surreptitious sandwich handoff, my pro bono work, a check to the soup kitchen, or my monthly auto-payment for the student I'm sponsoring in Zambia. Oops. Economic contributions again. Must work on that. Alas. Even if I give my time, I'm making an economic contribution, because what I'm really giving is labor. There is no escape!
I like thinking of myself as a leader, a giver, a maker, and a builder. I have all kinds of practical skills and I will readily teach them whenever I am asked. Or sometimes when I am not asked! I love mentoring young people. I love pushing my close friends to chase their dreams and get their passion projects into reality. These are much nicer feelings than the feelings of helplessness and futility and despair I felt when I was broke and constantly in need of rides, meals, loans, and sometimes places to sleep. Now I can give what I used to need. I give because I feel the need to give. I feel an internal pressure that never relents. I also feel that money is merely one aspect of a fountain of energy that I can tap at will. It's a shortcut. It's a force multiplier. I can give money to far more causes and purposes than I can give of my personal presence and personal attention. The more I earn, the more I can share and give, and the more natural it feels to do so.
If I were a goose, I'd want to be a fast goose, so a slower or older goose could fly behind me in formation and feel less wind resistance. Animals cooperate for the greater good of their species all the time. All I can do as a human person is to work. I can do a lot for my family and close friends, but it's finite. I'm not called upon for all that much hair-stroking and hand-holding. What I can do by working is to provide value through my work, and then take the money I earn and use it to provide value again. It's not perfect, but it is a pretty interesting form of cooperation, in the context of what can be done by members of the animal kingdom. We are the money animals.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.