What Does Money Mean to You?
Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett, wrote a brave column for The New York Times last week cautioning against what he calls “the charitable industrial complex.” His column (and the speed at which it flew around the web) is another sign that we’re experiencing a profound shift in consciousness around money right now. Warren is right to call for a new “story” about money, new systems and new “code” altogether, and it’s worth recognizing the evidence that this new story is being written already.
There’s Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy (2012) , David Korten’s Agenda For a New Economy, and an old classic by now, Lynn Twist’s The Soul of Money (2003), certainly one of the most powerful books I’ve read on the topic of changing our own relationship to money… as well as documentaries like Money & Life (2013), Park Avenue (2012), and The Economics of Happiness (2012). There are organizations out there dedicated to rethinking money, personal finance, and philanthropy like Financial Integrity/The New Road Map Foundation and Resource Generation, as well organizations and communities of practice dedicated to reconfiguring entire economic systems like BALLE, The Finance Innovation Lab, and The New Economics Institute. And there are some incredible organizations helping us handle our own money and/or careers better like She Negotiates and DailyWorth and my two personal favorites, Freelancers Union and Move the Crowd.
What’s wonderful and often extremely difficult about money is that it connects to everything. All of these great books, films, communities, and conversations raise thorny questions about our relationship to money as individuals; our culture around money; race, class, and gender; money and power (power to as well as the oppressive power over); money and politics; money and activism; money where it meets the localism movement; wealth and poverty; all the ways our work patterns and systems are changing; and yes, as Buffett says, how philanthropy functions in this country and in much of the rest of the world.
With so many different moving parts (and all of us coming from such different perspectives), no wonder conversations about money are so complicated. No wonder so many of us avoid them, although this is the last thing we should be doing.
The story of money gets further complicated still when we are honest about two seemingly conflicting truths: 1) the world is undergoing this profound shift of consciousness around money (waking up to the fact that money doesn’t matter like it used to or matters differently now) while 2) people still need money to get things done, particularly historically disenfranchised groups.
But what if these two truths could co-exist? What if we could change our story around money AND still get our most important projects funded (through and outside of foundations)? Like Peter Buffet, I don’t have the answer, but I know we start by courageously naming the problems and questions, just like Buffett did, and by listening to each other. Perhaps this looks like organizing local and national conversations around money and then sharing our learning with each other. Continuing this work that has already begun.
The challenge will likely be inviting enough of the right voices to the table, reaching across our social and professional circles to make sure the right people are in the room. And not just inviting people into our spheres of influence, but going and learning from organizations and communities that are already in these questions around how to make money work better for everyone, connected and disconnected to money and the power that so often comes along with it.
As individuals, if we are in a place to offer resources (in the form of money or services), we can choose to give. If we can supply new talent, skills, or knowledge, we can choose to ask for what we need and be prepared to get it. Ask for what you need, offer what you can. It works every time, but it means speaking up and showing up.
What conversations about money are you having or organizing with your community?