In Making Money Matter (Prospecta Press, 2015), author G. Benjamin Bingham challenges us to analyze the current financial framework and instead see money as a tool and springboard for positive change in our world. The age of strictly cold, quantitative analyses about life are starting to give way to more holistic ways of thinking — and with the unhealthy way it’s presently circulating, Bingham calls for a re-structuring of our financial transactions.
“What we say we can’t do is in truth what we don’t care enough to do.” — Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Always focused first on the vital importance of spiritual freedom, Steiner argues that “Free beings are ones who can will what they know to be right.” In a culture of freedom, work would indeed be separate from income and acts of good will would be chosen freely. We are far from adopting this perspective today because our culture has been built on the concept of “enlightened” self-interest, a refined form of egotism that does not prioritize consideration of the whole. The root of this systemic dysfunction is the valorization of national independence over human collaboration on a global scale.
It is fine to celebrate cultural patriotism or regional pride, but we must recognize that self-centered arrangements, even on a national level, often lead to failure and unhappiness. Selfishness is, in fact, the source of all pain on an individual level. On a global scale, nationalism has been used to justify the pain of isolation and war. How can we move instead toward a global economy based on compassion?
On the way to work one day, I stopped to buy a green smoothie. As I put cash on the counter, both the vendor and I noticed the word loved written beautifully in script across the face of a one-dollar bill. I chuckled, for I could easily imagine every transaction as an act of love: one person lovingly providing the product or service and the recipient showing loving appreciation for all that went into it. We are usually too shy or busy to notice the beautiful exchanges of everyday life — but why not enjoy them! It is a matter of intention and expanding one’s own awareness.
The same goes for human labor. It makes a tremendous difference when workers are in touch with their labor, when their piece of the puzzle is admired, when they are compensated fairly for what they have done. The need to express and receive gratitude is universal. Unfortunately, most economists consider labor a commodity — just another cost to be cut if possible. Instead of sharing profits with laborers, managers and directors of publicly traded companies spend most of their profits to buy back shares. This exercise manipulates the stock price in their favor so that they can exercise stock options on the most favorable terms, thus increasing the disparity between rich and poor.
All scientists, even economists, have begun to recognize that cold, quantitative mathematical analysis will never explain life as a whole, especially all the complexity of human behavior. We instead get closer to life itself through reverence for the wondrous beauty of nature, be it the geometry of a flower or the light in a child’s eyes. This is the foundation for all approaches that are called “holistic.”
The fruits of Rudolf Steiner’s holistic thinking are well established: Waldorf education considers the “whole” child, and biodynamic agriculture considers the whole farm as an organism. Less well known, perhaps, are the successful initiatives based on Steiner’s holistic approach to money. Triodos Bank, for example, was founded on Steiner’s economic insights. Based in Holland and the U.K., this global bank won recognition as Fast Company’s Community Bank of the year in 2009 and continues to provide leadership in new ways of economic thinking. RSF Social Finance, which financed Waldorf Schools initially, employs “social finance,” an approach to lending that the organization continues to cultivate in multiple innovative ways.
With or without Steiner, holistic thinking about money is here to stay. If you watch the introductory videos on Natural Investments or Centerpoint Advisors, for example, you will recognize it immediately. More financial professionals are making conscious references to natural systems in ways that are direct and relaxed. Goldman Sachs’s relatively tiny initiatives in “social impact bonds” are surprisingly holistic as well.
Benjamin Franklin’s phrase “doing well by doing good” is now being spouted off in the most unlikely places. At the Private Equity International Responsible Investment Forum in New York City in 2011, some of the biggest, “baddest” firms in the world were on stage bragging about how many millions they had saved by looking at investments “holistically.” They advocated for emergency efficiency strategies and recycling programs because “a penny saved is a penny earned.”
Another conceptual gift attributable to Steiner is the idea that money is the blood of the community. When healthy, our hearts are constantly sensitive to discord and harmony, and we feel the need to concentrate with discretion on how to make a difference. The heart’s rhythm moves from contraction to expansion with a pause in between, like the interval between notes in a melody. When our healthy hearts contract, we feel the need to just say no to discord and selfishness. As our hearts expand, we feel the stirring desire to just do it — to let the blood flow, to do good in the world and fix what is wrong.
Over the course of our lifetimes, the patterns of our individual personalities are formed as we alternate between these two poles of withholding and taking action. We are shaped by how we apply ourselves in different situations — and especially by how we manage our money.
The global economy continues to be weighed down by indigestible complexity and toxic “assets.” Money, the lifeblood of the world community, is not circulating properly, increasing the risk of heart failure. After surviving a heart attack, one might consider changing their lifestyle: reducing stress, eating a lighter diet, exercising and relaxing more, and giving up toxic habits. The planet Earth, ecologically interconnected worldwide, is in danger of heart trouble, especially as the human realm of money is threatened with blockages, bleeding, and even necrosis.
But lifestyle changes only indirectly support the heart; their effects are more immediately visible in the blood. The therapeutic impact of removing stressful, toxic, and indigestible substances can cause blood to become clear and free to do its work.
It is instructive to think of money as being like the blood of a circulatory system. Picture a figure eight, with a heart at the crossing point between two loops. (See slideshow.) Think of the heart as a threshold for key decisions to borrow, lend, gift, or invest. In a healthy economy, research and innovation is first supported by the profits of commerce passing through the “hearts” of socially minded investors, philanthropists, and fund managers. These intuitive investors are able to recognize the best minds and the greatest opportunities for creating future value — ideally entrepreneurs and activists working in the clear air of creative freedom. The upper loop in the diagram thus represents the flow of money to new social projects in the form of gifts and investments.
If successful, these ventures eventually hope to scale into commercial operations that require a different kind of money to expand: loan money. This means appealing to the “hearts” of inspired lenders, such as community banks, credit unions, and other ethical lenders. Imagine a refreshed world in which bankers join local investors to create community now, providing the capital necessary to support new infrastructure and initiatives for the common good.
Now the young venture has grown into an established business or nonprofit. Thousands of commercial transactions take place, with either cash or exchange money, as the caring consumer takes advantage of products or services offered by the company. Each transaction, if mutually beneficial, profits the buyer as well as the seller. This value creation carries the world forward, healing past problems and generating profit for the company’s owners and investors.
And so we begin again by considering in our “virtual hearts” how to invest or gift the profit from our commercial exchanges. The evolving cycle continues with the potential for providing wellbeing and abundance for all.
Every transaction presents an opportunity for the angel in each one of us to step forward. Care for unproductive members of society — the sick or disabled, the elderly, infants, and the dying — will always, in one form or another, need to be paid for by society. We can see this responsibility either as a burden or as an opportunity to grow as human beings. Similarly in each transaction, at the very personal periphery where money changes hands, both sides can feel either ripped off or privileged and honored.
As investors, we can shift the way markets work by valuing the problem solvers, the innovators, and the truly beneficial products over corporations that grow by wasting natural resources and by creating messes for others to clean up.
Silent gratitude will lead to appreciation of assets, just as it helps the digestion and nourishment of a good meal.
“Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; Avoid trifling conversation.”
In Franklin’s conversation circles, you paid a fine for interrupting or directly disagreeing with one another, and all grudges had to be left at the door. Only remarks that moved the agenda forward were allowed.
There is a tremendous amount of mindless chatter about money. Turn off your TV and pay no attention to gossip about “the market.” Instead, quietly focus on the fundamentals and building relationships.
If using money is a form of self-expression, then the virtue of silence reminds us to speak with our money only to benefit others or ourselves. Avoid flaunting wealth or spending with shallow ostentation.
The practice of silence is also a key element of good management. In Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. the key idea is for company leaders to let go of their assumptions, then sit in silence before rising up with fresh new ideas to brainstorm together as a team. This could become a part of any family’s financial planning practice: come together, drop your agendas, allow for silent refreshment without content, and then allow new visions to arise in brainstorming for common goals. Silence in this way becomes a wellspring of good will.
Reprinted with permission from Making Money Matter by G. Benjamin Bingham and published by Prospecta Press, 2015.
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