I am greed.
I live in your very cells, a genetic response to the monumental struggle to possess and maintain possession over vital resources. Back when you were closer to animal than human, I controlled you.
A social attitude, born of a need to survive as a family, then a tribe, then a nation. Back when you were closer to warriors than diplomats, I controlled you.
I am a feeling you cannot quite shake. You are beholden to me, to the push I represent. I am there, in your conscience, in your gut, in your lungs. I urge you to take, and never to give. Now, in this moment, I control you.
The human body is a response to the choice of two other human individuals to conceive a child. The human personality is a response to the choice of many individuals to create a culture. The human being is mostly a product of social and environmental factors. The human being lives because of others, loves others, hates others. The only constant in our interactions with the world is otherness. We are here, secluded in ourselves, each of us a house undivided. But as a family, a community, a country, or a planet, we are dependent on our relationships with those other houses.
And yet we are beset by a mindset, one that perhaps is not entirely our fault, that breeds in us a terrible fear. We are afraid of not having enough, of dying from starvation, thirst, lack of shelter. We are afraid of social rejection, of poverty, of finding ourselves at the bottom of a hierarchical social structure. These fears are born from our needs; we must, first and foremost, as natural creatures, protect and sustain ourselves.
The reality is that the only lasting way to ensure our own survival is through interdependence. Each person is, at the beginning of their lives, a dependent. And most people, at the end of their lives, are dependents. We spring forth from others, and we rely throughout our hundred or so years on others to give us food, water, shelter, respect, love, and community.
And herein lies the difficulty. Animals want to be independent; they want to amass for their own use the things which make their lives possible. We are animals, and the world we have built is an animal one. We take for ourselves, and we give much less often than we take. We cluck our tongues in sympathy over the starvation and oppression in the Third World, and then we go home to our spacious First World houses in our spacious First World cars. We eat large First World meals, and then we eat large First World desserts. But the next day, when confronted with pictures of children in sub-Saharan Africa, with the staggering numbers of people dying of starvation in North Korea, with the terrible reality of violent regimes and unjust wars throughout the world, we cluck our First World tongues. And nothing more.
Now, I will be the first to freely admit that people in the developed and very wealth nations in North America and Europe do a lot of good for the rest of the world. And I am not up on my soap box reciting the Communist Manifesto. I, myself, lead a comfortable First World life, and I, myself, often fall victim to the desire to grow complacent. And at the core of that desire is greed. Greed whispers in our ears You first, and it brings to mind all the things we want when we go to the "Donate Now" tabs on the websites of UNICEF, Free the Slaves, World Vision, and all the other countless charities that work to make the entire planet a First World.
We are people, and inevitably people need others. We cannot go on living the way we are: destroying the environment, celebrating success above all else, and growing increasingly apathetic to tragedy and death. We are products of the world we come from, and if greed is allowed to run that world, we will eventually be products of greed, and nothing else.
So, I propose a solution. It is small. It may you cost you money; it may cost you time and effort; it may cost you a bit of discomfort. But it is necessary. I call all of us, myself included, to critically assess what we value, and to whom those values useful. If profit comes at the expense of peace, perhaps profit is not valuable. If comfort comes at the expense of life, perhaps comfort is not valuable. If financial security comes a the expense of human dignity, perhaps it is not valuable.
And above all, when you take for yourself, remember to give something to someone else.
We must define the world that defines us.
May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.