I once met a man in his late 60’s or early 70’s, solidly built with a full gray beard. His family is quite well known in the Los Angeles area, operates a family business of a variety of industries, and has been wealthy for generations. We met in a business meeting during which he conducted himself as an astute businessman, with love and care for his family’s businesses.
A couple of hours after the meeting, I ran into him again in a marketplace. In our short walk together, he saw an old penny on the ground. Without hesitation, he bent down and gently picked up that old penny. He looked at it and said, “It is a penny.” Then he turned around to another gentleman sitting on a bench close to the penny and pleasantly asked, “Is this your penny?”
The other gentleman looked at him with warmth and reverence, smiled widely and responded, “No, it is all yours.”
The man smiled, turned back to himself, looked at the penny, gave it all his attention for a moment, and put it in his pocket.
He gave that penny such respect and recognized its value as the basic unit of money upon which wealth is built. Although he had millions, he valued that penny. The penny had a proper place in his being. There was no pride or arrogance in him, nor any attitude such as, “Who cares about a penny?”
This whole event unfolded in front of my eyes. It warmed my heart and taught me a lesson of humility and proper respect towards money. It also made me reflect on how I treat money. What does it mean to me? What position does it play in my life? How should I treat it and manage it appropriately?
Often we hear sayings like “What goes around comes around” or “You get what you ask for.” When it comes to money, the basic building block of financial security, our attitude towards it can be as important as our ability to earn it – “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
When our attitude towards money is like that of the man described above – respectful, prudent, and not wasting it carelessly – if I was money, I would want to stay in this environment, making it my home. Over time, this mentality will lead to a solid financial position, adequately supporting a lifestyle of spending within our means.
Conversely, when our attitude towards money is uncaring and disrespectful, and we mindlessly spend it on unnecessary, impulsive purchases… if you were money, would you want to stay? Probably not. In this situation, even when we make a lot of money, little will stick around for us to build long term financial security with it. We may find ourselves constantly chasing it, but somehow it comes and goes, slipping through our fingers at will. Like a person or a pet, money tends to leave for a better place when it is not properly treated where it is.
If we want to have a healthy relationship with money, we should treat it with proper respect and prudence. It is the fruit of our hard work. Respecting money is also a reflection of respecting ourselves.
My next question is – what role does money play in our lives? Generally, money can play two roles – that of a master or a useful resource. In our everyday lives, we traverse in the wide spectrum between these two roles. At times, it can be difficult to tell the difference.
Personally, I would say that money and I are quite good friends, but often I have to work very hard to keep it from being my boss.
When money sits as the master of our lives, we may find ourselves sometimes unknowingly enslaved to it like old Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Along the way, making money or growing our net worth takes priority over other things in life, such as our relationships with our family, friends, and colleagues. Money becomes a benchmark with which to measure ourselves, others, and sometimes ourselves against others. We run the risk of losing sight of the intrinsic value of human beings – losing the humanity within us, our love of life, our appreciation of what is real in our life, and the ability to enjoy life as it is in its present form.
If or when that happens, are we truly living? Is that all life is to us? Mere possessions of money and things?
On the other hand, when we view money simply as a precious resource to support our lives in various capacities – including giving charity to others – we may gain order, simplicity, clarity, and alignment to our inner values. From there, we grow and nurture a heart of gratitude, appreciating the simple abundance of life through our relationships with others. Precious moments spent with our loved ones create beautiful memories that will stay with us throughout our lives and warm our hearts whenever we call upon them. This can in turn equip us to weather life’s challenges with a much stronger social network, inner confidence, and a healthy mind.
That is conscious living.