“Enough is enough!” That’s usually said in anger about an intolerable situation. For many, the consumer culture and economy have become just that. Intolerable. To break out, we need a clear vision of what “enough” looks like and a courageous choice to live accordingly. Then “enough” will truly be enough.
It’s been said that you can divide the world into three groups of people: the haves, the have-nots, and the have-a-little-want-mores. What group do you identify with? If you’re like most people with electronic mail, you’re in the third group. We can never have enough.
How much is enough? For the vast majority of people, it’s more than they have right now. This is not a new phenomenon. The old adage, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” reminds us of our natural tendency to compare ourselves to others. Five of the seven deadly sins (avarice, envy, gluttony, lechery, and pride) have to do with this phenomenon. They are deadly because they are bottomless pits from which there is virtually no way out. How can the appetite be satisfied when there’s always room for more.
Juliet B. Schor in her 1998 book The Overspent American: Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer (Click) observes that the have-a-little-want-more problem is even more dangerous now than it was in ancient times. In ancient times people were limited to seeing the grass in their immediate neighborhood. These people • who might have been slightly better off • became the proverbial “Joneses” that others were trying to keep up with.
Schor observes that today, with global communication and transportation, people see the grass in everyone’s neighborhood. The poor and the middle-class have frequent and direct visibility to the lifestyles of people who are much better off • the proverbial rich and famous. Trying to keep up with these folk generates tremendous pressure to live and spend beyond reason. This is particularly evident during the holiday season, when gift giving turns into a worldwide orgy of spending on credit • emulating what we think others are doing or expect of us.
There comes a time to say, “Enough is enough.” It is not inappropriate to be angry at what consumerism has done to our lives. Instead of getting ahead, most people are getting behind. Instead of making a living, most people are making a dying. That’s true for the haves as well as the have-nots. The question is not how much money comes in or goes out every week, month, or year. The question is how much money is left over. Does the bottom line increase or decrease? If it doesn’t increase above the rate of inflation, then we’re getting behind with every passing day.
As much as this common condition understandably and appropriately provokes anger, we will end up no better off than we were before if that’s all it provokes. We will end up angry as well as broke. There is, however, another approach. We can move beyond anger to action. Some take action on a macro level: working to change the political and economic systems of a consumer society. Others take action on a micro level: working to change the personal and professional systems of individuals and organizations. Without action, the anger is wasted and becomes another one of those deadly sins.
Actually, everyone needs to act on the micro level • even those working for political and economic change on the macro level. There’s always the small matter of life in the meantime, which left untended can provoke personal as well as organizational crises. That’s where the concept of “enough is enough” takes on larger dimensions than just getting angry at an intolerable state of affairs. Unless we know what “enough” is, “enough” will never be enough and we’ll always be dissatisfied, discontent, restless, impatient, anxious, striving, pushing, rushing, unfulfilled, and broke.
How can we ever have enough? How can we ever have enough money? Enough security? Enough time? Enough energy? Enough pleasure? Enough power? Enough prestige? How can we ever have enough?
It takes a clear vision of what “enough” looks like and a courageous choice to pursue that vision, rather than all the other visions that our family, friends, and consumer culture place before us on a daily basis. Very few people live this way. They do not craft lives on the basis of a vision; they go through life driven by expectations. To be successful with money we need to “get” this distinction and live accordingly. Next week we’ll talk more about how to do just that.
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May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC