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The suggestion that money and behavior are forever linked is likely to elicit some very strong opinions on both sides of the debate. A majority of people base their position upon personal experience, as is the case with many debates.
Many people argue that wealthy people lack compassion and therefore do not behave charitably. Others protest that wealthy people make the vast majority of charitable contributions. The trouble is that both arguments are equally valid depending upon one’s perspective and specific circumstances.
Money Augments Existing Character
In 1940, during the early stages of WWII, a businessman acquired a company nicknamed “Emalia.” The company produced enamel cookware for the nation’s military. This businessman initially sought the cheapest labor available in an effort to maximize his profit margins. An already wealthy man appeared to grow even wealthier in the process.
When the violence and destruction of war threatened the well-being of his operation, the businessman sought government support to move his factory to another location. Many of his cheap laborers were rerouted to alternate locations, which caused the businessman to endure great financial loss to regain his labor force.
Following the factory relocation, Emalia ceased production of enamelware and began producing artillery shells to support the war effort. When the military questioned the factory’s low output of useful artillery, the businessman began purchasing finished inventory on the black market and reselling it as his own.
When government appointees caught on to this businessman’s deception, he sought their silence and secrecy through bribery. By the end of the war, this businessman had spent his entire fortune – reportedly in excess of $1 million – on relocation, bribes, maintaining his “cheap” workforce, and the purchase of black market goods.
Who was this man?
To Nazi sympathizers, Schindler was a traitor and war criminal who used his wealth to defy his political party and commit despicable acts of cowardice. To the rest of the world, he was a noble hero who, despite his flaws, used his position of wealth to save the lives of an estimated 1,200 persecuted Jews.
Despite living a life of drunkenness and adultery, Oskar Schindler’s vast wealth amplified his character and led him to risk his entire fortune, even his life, to save the lives of Jews. In his case, we may observe that money changes behavior for the better by bringing out a person’s true colors. After all, Schindler did what he was best at – lying, swindling, cheating, and bribing – while nobly sacrificing his wealth to save lives.
In the end, neither Oskar Schindler’s money nor behavior alone would have been enough. It was his money and behavior which saved the lives of Jews.
Admittedly, this is perhaps an extreme example, yet it provides a memorable illustration of an important truth: money augments existing character.
Money Does Not Change Everyone
For many people, money and behavior are linked, and often with negative consequences. However, money does not change everyone. Most of us learned this lesson at a very young age through literature and film. I learned it through a reading of Roald Dahl’s timeless book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the 1971 Gene Wilder film Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.
As you may recall, the film version takes liberty with the character of Arthur Slugworth, a candy-making rival of Wonka. Slugworth attempts to bribe all of the children who find Golden Tickets into providing him an Everlasting Gobstopper so he can uncover the secret formula and ruin Wonka forever. When Slugworth encounters our protagonist, Charlie Bucket, in a dark alley, he provides Charlie’s first test of character.
“Now listen very carefully because I’m going to make you very rich indeed… So all I want you to do is get a hold of one Everlasting Gobstopper. . . Think it over, will you? A new house for your family. Good food and comfort for the rest of their lives.”
Charlie and Grandpa Joe enjoy a fanciful visit to Wonka’s chocolate factory, and at the end, Willy Wonka probes Charlie for a link between money and behavior. After being informed that Charlie has lost his right to a lifetime supply of chocolate due to stealing fizzy lifting drinks, an incredulous Grandpa Joe shows his true colors.
“How could you do something like this, build up a little boy’s hopes and then smash all his dreams to pieces? You’re an inhuman monster. . . Come on, Charlie. Let’s get out of here. I’ll get even with him if it’s the last thing I ever do. If Slugworth wants a Gobstopper, he’ll get one.”
In a shining moment in film, Charlie Bucket displays an uncommon display of youthful character and returns the Gobstopper. Willy Wonka drops his act and whispers, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” After apologizing to Charlie for putting him through a trying ordeal, Wonka reveals that “Slugworth” is really Mr. Wilkinson, a Wonka employee.
Yes, perhaps I have gone to the opposite extreme now in pulling an example from film, but Charlie Bucket’s example reveals that money and behavior are not linked in all people.
Three Steps to Build Positive Connections Between Money and Behavior
In light of the previous analyses, it appears to be reasonable to conclude that people should strive to maximize the positive connections between money and behavior while minimizing or eliminating altogether the negative connections. Of course, this requires tremendous personal discipline, but I believe it can be done by actively seeking to apply the following three action steps to build positive connections between money and behavior:
1. Do not withhold money from those in need
While I won’t advocate that you give away your entire nest egg a la Oskar Schindler, I will challenge you to increase your charitable giving right away. Furthermore, when your income increases, increase your giving in corresponding fashion. For example, if you currently contribute 2% of your annual earnings to charity, be sure that you continue to contribute that same percentage after receiving a raise.
2. Do not find your happiness in money
Despite our human instincts which seek to convince us otherwise, there is not a linear relationship between money and happiness. Researchers have not yet established solid proof that money can or cannot buy happiness; in fact, research over the past ten years reveals that behavioral psychologists may be more divided on this issue than ever before.
Perhaps the link between money and happiness does not lie within how much money or how many possessions one possesses, but instead lies in purposefully managing the money and possessions which pass through his hands.
3. Do not allow yourself to be defined by money
If you allow money to define you, you are constructing a fragile glass house. Instead, live a life of introspection and view any excess money as a means to make a contribution to society.
Ultimately, whether you allow yourself to develop negative links between money and behavior is a personal matter. Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, from rags to riches or somewhere in between, money will always seek to bring out the best and worst in you. By allowing money to augment but not change your existing character, you will be well on your way toward cultivating the positive connections between money and behavior.
What have your personal experiences taught you regarding the connection between money and behavior? What challenges do you face in cultivating positive connections between money and behavior?