I love my dad. Although he doesn’t have my strong optimistic streak, he is generally pretty content. The last time we chatted, however, he was a little upset about something, and that something was money. He had recently found out what some oil rig workers made per hour, and was amazed, flabbergasted, and frankly, a little jealous that someone could make so much money. He is a farmer — mostly chickens, a few beef cows — and hasn’t made an hourly wage since he did a little work as a welder, repairing broken cargo carts that they use at the airport to load airplanes. He also worked for many years as a bulk milk truck driver (class 1 license, part-time work), and before buying the farm, he did road construction. He said he made $3.60/hour back in the day, which was a really good wage! These days, though, he sells eggs at the farmer’s market and hay at the auction mart (and privately) and both are prized for their excellent quality. He gets top dollar! But it ain’t no oil worker’s wage. Mind you, he is supposed to be getting ready to retire — it can be a multi-year process for farmers. In any case, he tends to get upset when he hears what some guys are making these days. Big numbers!
I have two friends that have been working 7 days a week, 12-hour days, and their employer is six weeks behind in their pay. Six weeks! That’s quite a while to go without any income; most of us couldn’t even do it. Needless to say, they are getting pretty grumpy about it, and are starting to catch the rarely-spoken-about Northern disease of greed. Okay, so it isn’t just a Northern disease, but it’s getting to the point where they aren’t going to do anything without being paid in advance. I can’t say I exactly blame them… but it does make me revisit the idea I occasionally entertain about how a moneyless society would work.
Money. Why does it matter so much? Why do we use it to define our worth? It absolutely shouldn’t be associated with our worth, but it often is. I see it as simply a more convenient way of exchanging resources than carrying around chickens to trade. So why not go back to chickens? If we did, my dad would be one of the richest guys around! Plus, he also has hay, grain, and all sorts of other very practical, tradeable (and edible) items. But most of us don’t have such things — we are stuck exchanging our talents, skills and/or time (abstract things) for numbers on a piece of paper (or computer screen).
It’s the curse of the purse: we need to work, but it doesn’t go smoothly and we don’t enjoy it. We do it all because we are too wrapped up in the numbers: the money we will make.
Work 18 hours straight? Sure, great overtime! Work 25 days in a row? Awesome, bring it on! Work a job we don’t believe in? Sure, if it pays well! We don’t agree to do these things because we actually want to do them — we do it because we have dollar signs in our eyes. We forget our principles, and what’s important to us. In my personal philosophy, money should enable us to do things we want to do — that’s why we work. But too often, we work to make bigger numbers, to pay off bills or debts for things that we don’t even enjoy. We live beyond our means, and then try to make the means bigger, and as a result, we get grumpy, angry and greedy. It’s the curse of the purse.
Can you believe how much money Bill made last year? It’s insane! Comparing ourselves with others — be they famous, coworkers or friends — is a surefire way to feel dissatisfied. We work harder than Bill. We work longer hours than Bill. We know the job better than he does and have better skills. We should be making more money than Bill! Thinking this way is so unproductive. It would be better if we never knew how much money others made, ’cause when we do, and it can frustrate us to no end. It’s curse of the purse again.
As much as we might like to, we can’t go back to trading chickens. So many of us are stuck in very sedentary, impractical jobs where immaterial things are traded for money. Clicks equal dollars. Information, cents. Trading our days for numbers. Wish we had more. We’re all trying to live with the curse of the purse hanging over us. All we can do is stop being driven by the numbers, and start living life again — doing things we enjoy, both as work and as play. Spending time with ones we love. Appreciating the little things. Spending time in nature. Reconnecting with ourselves.
Wherever or however you do it, if you stop paying so much attention to the numbers on the piece of paper, you won’t be the only one. I’ll be right there with ya.