There is no clearer picture of greed than in Charles Dickens’ character Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s interesting because even though he obviously values money greatly, his actions show that he has no idea what the value of money really is. Let’s look closer and see what we can learn.
First, we need to make a distinction between money and value, and we need to develop tests for identifying each.
The money test is the raw numbers, the math of financial decisions. When it comes to new cars, we need to factor in depreciation, the cost of ownership, the debt structure, interest rate, etc. This test can tell us the financial wisdom of a decision, but it can’t tell us whether we should make the decision or not.
The value test is the meaning behind the money, the purpose for it. Like Scrooge, money can lead us to poverty just as fast as it can lead us to wealth, so when we think of “money”, we need to determine where our money is leading us. Will that new car lead us to poverty or wealth?
Once we have run the money test and determined that a decision is not bad financially, then we need to run the value test to determine if it is the right decision for us, our family, our trajectory, our purpose.
No one denies that Scrooge did a good thing by saving a lot of money—that was a great financial decision—but we can see that the value of money greatly overshadowed other more important values like community, family, and justice. Saving money ended up almost costing him his soul, not because saving is bad, but because his purpose for saving was bad—because his values were off. If he had run the value test, the question he should have asked would be, “Is my saving money leading me to poverty or wealth?”
Finally, let’s define poverty and wealth. Scrooge had piles of money (think of Disney’s Scrooge McDuck and his swan dive into his pile of coins), but he had no friends, no family, no meaning in his life. Though he was rich, he was poor. After the midnight vision shook him awake to this reality, he became generous, buying the biggest Christmas turkey at the store, investing time in family, giving his employee a raise, taking care of the downtrodden and becoming a means of restoring justice to the world around him.
Financially, he started hemorrhaging cash. But after further evaluation, the moment he started giving away his money is the moment he started to become wealthy, experiencing the enrichment of freedom and purpose that only true wealth can bring. Scrooge turned from the poverty of money to the wealth of value. Financially, there’s no greater gift.
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