Overcoming Greed

by Kasey Castleberry

Note: This is simply a pondering about how to enact political change without being unkind or aligned to a party, composed on 2017 January 23.

If ever the time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin. ~ Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

In our first principle, Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. As such, it seems contrary to disrespect ANYONE, even politicians that seem to be aspiring to hold office for their own gain and at the expense of the people. Rather than demonizing such individuals or those who blindly follow them, regardless of political affiliation, we should extend to them the same compassion and understanding that we would for the oppressed.

This does not mean that when we encounter incidents of social injustice that we are not allowed some degree of righteous anger, but acting in anger should never be the preferred response in seeking Beloved Community. It can and should propel us forward, but we must be mindful of how best to proceed. Struggling AGAINST something prompts an opposing force, but we encounter much less opposition when we work with or pass around obstacles with benevolence.

Sometimes, we find that the less forceful way is too slow, too circuitous, and too stressful. We grow weary of the ignorance of those who do not see the glory in our chosen path. If so, then perhaps we are the vain ones. If we disrespect the beliefs of others, then how can we expect them to respect ours?

Giving respect earns respect in return. Again, that does not mean that ALL beliefs are beneficial, not even to those who hold them as Truth. So, when we encounter what we know to be a false belief, one that does not match a desire with the outcome, then we must help the other person see the failings with a compassionate examination. We begin with sharing our common goals.

What do we want? First, we need to be clear about the generalities that we hope to see manifest: access to fresh water and healthy food, having a safe and comfortable home, opportunities for work and education, availability of medical care, and numerous other needs and desires. We all want these things, and if we are kind and decent people, we want them for others, as well.

The problem that we run into in our search for our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is that we too often believe in the scarcity of commodities. Why should we strive to help our brothers and sisters meet their needs when there is not enough for us? We do so because there is only abundance, even if Greed would have us believe otherwise.

In the United States of America of 2010, the top 1% of households owned 35.4% of the privately held wealth. The next 19% owned 53.5%, and the remaining 80% were only left with 11.1%. [Domhoff]

In 2010, the top 20% had a mean household income of $226,200. If this seems high to you, you are likely in the bottom 80%. Therein, privately held wealth fell from 18.7% in 1983 to 11.1% in 2010. Trick-down economics made the rich richer, a trend that has continued well beyond the Reagan years. Though, there was a slight increase during the Clinton administration.

If around 90% of the wealth is owned by the top 20% of the population, then why would we think that our neighbors are stealing our wealth? We need to stop believing that Greed is the solution to our woes when it is, in fact, the instigator. It only makes the poor poorer, and if you are not in the top 20%, that means you, more or less.

Imagine that this was applicable to a 100 person community. Therein, 1 person owns 35.4% of everything. 19 people own 2.8% each, and the rest own 0.1% each. That also translates to 99 people averaging 0.7% each. Does that one person really need more than 50 times as much as an average 99er?

The solution is to vote for people who want to end the extremes in wealth distribution. That does not mean that we should hate the rich. Many of them worked hard and deserve to be rewarded financially for their accomplishments. Furthermore, if you take away incentives, then many people will stop trying to succeed, and that hurts us all, too.

Still, should anyone take so much and encourage the rest of us to fight over the scraps, as if that is all that there is? When we are encouraged to fight among ourselves, we often overlook the real causes of our problems and the real intentions of those in power. Respect them, but do not be deceived.

I truly believe that most people are basically good, but Greed is not. That is the real foe that we need to address. It comes in many forms and influences politicians on both sides of the aisle, and it comes in many sizes: personal greed, corporate greed, and national greed. We, the experienced patriots, can do better.

He will reply: "Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." Matthew 25:45

Reference Notes

Domhoff: "Who Rules America?" Professor G. William Domhoff. University of California at Santa Cruz, Department of Sociology. UCSC.ed. First posted September 2005; most recently updated February 2013. [webpage]