Being part of a thirty-day fundraising campaign for a creative project has forced me to examine the concepts of “greed” and “need” again. A few weeks ago, I launched a book project “This Restless Life: a study of California parks through photography, collage and stories.”
Since then, I have experienced periods of disturbed serenity and dissatisfaction. I have asked myself how I can shift so quickly from feelings of joy to abysmal discontent. The discontent seemed to go hand-in-hand with the stoppage of contributions to my project in any given hour or on any given day.
During the down cycles, I found myself feeling either emotionally needy or angrily obsessed over the billions of dollars spent on the recent presidential campaigns. I ended up comparing President Obama’s and Governor Romney’s billion dollar campaign budgets with my twelve-thousand-dollar Kickstarter campaign budget.
I found myself calculating. Two billion dollars or two persons’ presidential campaign costs could easily fund a quarter of a million artists’ Kickstarter campaigns. In spite of my general happiness with my life, I felt on edge. The word “greed” came to mind.
The Christian definition of greed describes the key characteristic. The greedy person is that person who is never satisfied no matter how much material goods – houses, cars, clothes, food, etc. – are accumulated by the person.
“Need” is anything that is necessary but lacking.
What are examples of ‘necessary but lacking’? Of course food and protection from the elements can fit the category of need. Certainly some of the victims of Hurricane Sandy that recently ripped through the northeast experienced genuine need. Some were left exposed to the elements when their homes were destroyed or when they lost power at the same time as temperatures dove. In such dramatic circumstances, need is clear.
Greed implies that no matter how many houses someone has, how much food, how many pieces of clothing, how much access to all the inspirational goodies in the world, his or her desire is still not satisfied. So the person continues to crave and/or acquire material stuff while falsely believing that it will make them happy.
What percentage of time must a person think or act greedy in order to qualify as a greedy person?
Maybe it is like most other things in life. Maybe the answer is not black and white. There is gray area between the absolutes of greed and need.
One cannot so clearly define needs of the human mind, heart and soul. A roof over one’s head and food in one’s stomach can surely keep the body alive but what does it take to keep the human spirit alive?
So am I greedy or needy in my desire for people to contribute to my book project? In some respects, I am definitely greedy. How many more dollars will it take for me to be happy when I already possess everything I need to keep my body alive and my spirit flourishing?
In other respects I am just needy. In order to publish ‘This Restless Life’ and share it with others, more expendable dollars are necessary.
It is easy to look outward and to call another greedy. It is not as easy to look inside and to decide what is greed and what is need.
And as I think through this matter, it becomes clear that one cannot talk about greed without talking about fear. Fear takes one out of the present moment where indeed all is well enough. Where all physical and spiritual needs are met.
In that present moment, if one allows him or herself to anticipate future scarcity, one’s desire for more can be ignited. Fear creates an inability for one to appreciate what one possesses already in the moment or to trust she will have what she needs in the future.
Just by entertaining the questions ‘What if I lose what I have? What if things change?’ one opens oneself to the potential for greed. When I am afraid that I will not continue to have enough, I falsely believe that I must obsessively pursue more. Yes, of course there is wisdom in planning ahead and providing reasonably for one’s future but what happens when practical planning turns into craving?
And there is the key. When craving stuff intensifies to combat irrational fear rather than just simply preparing for tomorrow then letting go, all sense of satisfaction can be lost. Remember that in the craving state of mind, it does not matter that all the body’s needs are cared for and that a multitude of opportunities exist to nurture the spirit. The craving for and pursuit of stuff can override reality and make life miserable.
In that mental misery of not having I lose what is real and what is genuine. I lose touch with the reality that I have enough. I lose the moment’s joy to my fear of what may be lacking tomorrow.
I leave the reality of plenty and enter the fear of the deprived and I become greedy in my thoughts and actions. Who can feel good when he is feeling greedy?
So my task as I see it is to remember that this moment is what is real. This moment alone. And for as long as I am alive on this earth, if I can trust that I will certainly have all that I need, I shall be content. I shall be free of the life-sucking burdens of greed.
So I let myself breathe deeply and rejoice in the view. From our warm 30-foot Jazz fifth-wheel trailer I watch the cows graze on the foggy hill across from the RV park and listen to smooth jazz on Sirius radio. My body and spirit’s needs are met.