Money, Our Elephant in the Room: Some Reflections

Last night, Leon Berg, a founding member of The Ojai Foundation, and I hosted a conversation at The Ojai Foundation. The title of the conversation was ‘Money: Our Elephant in the Room.’

Could there be any subject that is more taboo than that of money? Common sense tells us that money is to be used but never discussed; to be thought about in the genre of a silent soliloquy but rarely cast in the form as a dialogue; to be taken for granted as a force in the background, not to be solicited to appear as itself in the foreground. Yet last night we began to question common sense, turning it on its head by making money speak. And what did it have to say?

Among our inheritances, I have implied, is the view that money is not to be openly discussed. This is a common sense view about being publicly silent when it comes to money matters. Another inheritance flows from all the money adages coursing through our thoughts, ones we have adopted yet never actually considered, with the result that this stock of common sayings inform our unconsciously thoughts and shape our behaviors. Does ‘money [actually] make the world go around’? If so, which world? Might there be domains wherein this is not the case? Is it true–to take a second adage–that ‘money is time?’ What does this say about our commonsensical notion of time? What further does it imply about what we ought to do with our time? And if we think it is correct to believe money ‘can’t buy’ certain things, why do we nonetheless believe that money is a necessary condition for pursuing, securing, and maintaining these immaterial goods?

Common sense, if only it is examined, tells us what specific roles money has played in shaping our thought and action at a general, abstract level. This leads me to wonder about the ways in which a particular individual’s conceptions of money have formed his thinking and acting. Might a psychodrama shed light on this question? Following the notion of a constellation, imagine (say) seven individuals representing Self, Scarcity, Enough, Abundance, Mortgage, Debt, and Expenses showing in physical, silent form and by virtue of their visual layout as a tableau one’s current relationships to money. What great tensions would thereby be made plain? What specific fears could be revealed? What truths might be disclosed? What blindnesses exposed and vague notions sharpened? How, in short, might this transform this individual’s understanding of money’s role in his everyday life?