More Than Money
Issue #29

Money Changes Everything

Table of Contents

“Money Changes Everything-Or Does It?”

By Pamela Gerloff

Sometimes I think of the old story about a fellow who, as a young man, was eager to "change the world." As he got a little older, he began to realize that if he could just change his country, he'd be doing pretty well. As he got older still, he started to think that if he could just change his town, he'd be happy. And further down the road, he figured that if he could just change his own family, he would have accomplished something great. Finally, near the end of his life, he realized that if he could just change himself, he'd be lucky.

If you're old enough, you already know how hard it can be to change yourself, let alone other people or the world. And if you've had enough experience with money, you know that sometimes it produces stunningly positive changes-in individual lives and in the world-and sometimes it does not.

So, what does money change and what doesn't it change? And why does it even matter?

The Extraordinary Power of Money

I first discovered the power of money as a tool for personal change when I served on the financial stewardship committee of a meditation group to which I belong. Our committee's sole assignment was to invite people to try giving money away as a spiritual practice, to see what kinds of transformations it brought into their lives-and to assist people as they did this. There was no expectation attached-no specified amount people were expected to give, no timetable for giving. It was even okay if people chose not to give at all. We simply offered an invitation, provided giving opportunities, and arranged forums for discussing the questions that arose as people began to give their money away.

That experience changed my life. When I started giving money systematically, for specific purposes, while carefully noticing how I felt about it, the conflicts it brought up for me, and the blessings it seemed to open up in my life, I began to think of money entirely differently than I had before. I began to realize that it holds extraordinary power.

Now, I can't say I understand this power-either what it is exactly or how it works. But one thing I know: it's worth trying to understand more, because if I can understand the power money holds for personal change, maybe I can use it more effectively in my own life and for others.

Jack Canfield (p. 12) and Mark M. (p. 10) both point out that money has the mysterious capacity to magnify hidden tendencies within us, so that they become large enough for us to see more clearly and we can then do something about them. That's what happened for me when I started paying attention to what happened inside myself when I donated money. I noticed when I was generous and when I was stingy; when I was cautious and mistrustful and when I was bold and unafraid; when I felt shame or guilt; what my beliefs were about scarcity and abundance or about justice and equality; how much I was (or wasn't) attached to the results of my giving; how much I was (or wasn't) able to receive the fruits of my giving. Noticing the feelings and beliefs about money that giving stimulated in me allowed me to see my own hidden tendencies, and then decide whether I wanted to change them or not. Sometimes these tendencies just changed on their own, once I could see them.

I also noticed how good it feels to give, especially when I love where my money is going. And I began to seriously examine how change actually works, so that if I want to create change in the world with my money, I can direct it where I believe it will have its most potent effects.

This journal issue presents voices of people examining how their own lives have been transformed-or how they are transforming the world-through the power of money. Some talk about the positive changes money has brought to their lives, some talk about the negatives. Some talk about what money has not changed for them. Others talk about what they have been doing with their money to bring about change. Some talk about how we can think about money differently and use it to create exciting new possibilities in the world.

This issue of More Than Money Journal is full of seemingly opposing ideas, both of which may be true at the same time, neither of which may be true at a given time, and some of which may be true sometimes, but not all the time. Any discussion of the transformative power of money is complicated, because money and change are both hard to talk about.

Usually, we don't talk much about money and what it changes in our lives. As a result, few of us really know how the presence (or absence) of money affects the people we know and love. And we're not clear about how it has affected our own lives, either, unless we've spent a long time considering the question.

Clarity as a Key to Power

Clarity about what money changes and what it doesn't, what it can do and what it can't, and what we want to accomplish with it are important because they are precursors to harnessing its power. Without such clarity, we may lend money to a friend because we can't say no to someone we love, even when we know this is not the best use of our money. We may give money to a particular charity out of a feeling of pity or guilt, when our deepest values would call us to donate to another cause more aligned with our values. We might invest in a company because it offers a high rate of return, even though we suspect it uses questionable business practices. Such actions lack their full power. As a teacher of mine once said, "Until your thoughts, words, and actions are a single, integrated unit, you have no power in your life."

Many of us have contradictory impulses about money and the changes it brings to our lives. As Anne Slepian, co-founder of More Than Money, says, "When it comes to our personal lives, it seems most of us wistfully hope that money will change some aspects and leave others untouched." Acknowledging the realities of our lives, as well as our conflicting desires for the changes that money brings, is a step toward resolving our own conflicts about money and its impact on our lives.

The frank discussions inside these pages are meant to help us align our thoughts, words, and actions, and thus gain greater power in our lives. They are also meant to trigger ideas and inspire us toward new directions. Most importantly, they are meant to assist us in what Pamela York Klainer calls "making money ordinary." We need to make money ordinary enough to talk about, she says, "because if we can't talk about it, we can't learn from it." (p. 18) The more easily and clearly we can talk about money's power to transform us, individually and collectively, the more effectively we can harness its power as a tool for change.


Pamela Gerloff is editor of More Than Money Journal. She is founder of Compelling Vision and the New Education Network and holds a doctorate in human development from Harvard University.
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