Years ago, one of the most popular shows on television was “Candid Camera,” which captured people’s funny reactions to situations on a hidden camera.
One setup that I remember in particular was a little grocery store that put a big table heaped with oranges outside with a sign that said “FREE.” They purposely didn’t leave anything to carry the oranges in. Predictably, everyone tried to take three or four more oranges than they could carry. Their hilarious reactions at being busted for being so greedy usually included embarrassment.
Greed is one of the most dangerous emotions. It makes people act irrationally and foolishly. Greed clouds your judgment. That’s why in the investment community they say bulls and bears make money, and pigs get slaughtered.
Businesses that overcharge or take advantage of their customers often end up spending more to fix their reputations than they made in the first place. That is, if they stay in business at all. One way or another, they will get slaughtered.
Our materialistic society urges us to accumulate more. We “need” a bigger house, a bigger car, a bigger TV. We see other people with more stuff, and we want more.
Let’s face it: Few of us would ever turn down a pay increase. It’s natural to want more. The quandary lies in deciding how much more is enough. There’s no crime in accumulating money or things. The problem arises when the quest for more dominates all else.
The Merriam-Webster definition describes greed as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed.”
The key word is “excessive.”
Greed doesn’t necessarily relate only to money. When someone wants more than their fair share or has a strong desire to accumulate something, especially at the expense of others or if there is only so much to go around, it’s an example of greed.
Greed is one of the seven deadly sins, along with gluttony, lust, sloth, pride, envy and anger. Each of those also relates to greed: Greed is the gluttony of stuff. Greed is the lust for stuff. Greed is moral sloth; an inability to conceive of making do with less than too much. Greed is the pride of having stuff. Greed is the envy of those who have stuff. Greed is the anger that believes we have the right to possess. Greed is destructive.
My friend Brian Tracy says: “Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”
According to folklore, long ago during the time when the salmon swam up the Cheakamus River to spawn, the people of the Squamish Nation would fish and store their catch for the coming winter.
One day, a man came to the river and cast his net into the water hoping to catch something for dinner. Within minutes, he had enough fish to feed his family through the following spring. He packed his catch in cedar baskets and prepared to haul it away.
As he started to leave, he looked to the river and became unsatisfied with the abundance he already possessed. He cast his net into the water once more and pulled out another bounty of salmon. He emptied his net onto the shore and admired his second catch. He now had enough fish to feed two more families until the spring.
Instead of leaving, the man wondered just how many fish the river would give to him. He tossed his net into the water for a third time. He pulled it back in and found that it was tangled and filled with sticks, river stones and muck.
He shrugged off this misfortune and turned away from the water. When he looked toward the last catch of salmon he had left on the shore, he saw only piles of rocks in its place. When he checked his cedar baskets he found them filled with twigs and roots.
Then he noticed Wountie, the spirit protector of the river. Wountie spoke to the man and told him that his greed had broken harmony with the river — and that Nature expressed her displeasure by withholding her gifts to him.
The man returned home with empty baskets, haunted by the consequences of his actions. He would always remember that enough is more than plenty.
Mackay’s Moral: One who grabs too much may lose it all.
Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.