Louis Roney: Greed?

Louis Roney

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“There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need, but not for man’s greed .” —Gandhi

“If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed, and love of power.” —P.J. O’Rourke

My attitude may be somewhat cynical, but after 93 years on this Earth, I am quite convinced that the majority of human actions are designed to satisfy thoughts of greed in one form or another. Greed is coveting fervently something that we do not yet own.

Greed is satisfied by bargaining and conniving, and often in stealth. It is patently illustrated in the outstretched hand of the smallest child who wants something.

The industry of advertising is nothing less than a constant whetting of the greed in human beings — greed for a new car, a new house or the latest in fashion. Americans probably own more material things per capita than any other people on the face of the earth, and a continuous feeling of need is generated from every angle by tongue and pen in order to attract money for those who benefit from the satisfying of greed.

Greed is the emotion that causes people to go into outsized debt, which their rationality warns them they cannot repay. Greed makes the guy who can afford a Chevy buy a Mercedes to make him look more successful to his neighbors.

Greed keeps doctors and hospitals busy with those who are sick and are greedy to live a while longer. But the greediest doctor himself has no more power to prolong his own existence indefinitely than he does the lives of his patients.

Time is, of course, the victor over all human greed, and even the doctor does not know whether, when he closes his eyes for the last time, he will awaken in a heaven of sorts as promised by his religion, or the black void from which he sprang. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” may not be inspiring, but isn’t it better than never to have had a brief glimpse of life’s sunshine?

We want more of everything good, and less of everything less than good. Our first words in life may be “I want” and our last words may be ditto – we are greedy from beginning to end.

My grandmother declared, “The happiest people are those who have learned to enjoy what they already have.” Most Americans probably have everything they need, and almost everything they want. Money is power, and the more money we save, the more power we hold over other people’s goods and services.

Figures in a bankbook can bring a smile to the face of one looking for security. Perhaps each of us should take an accurate inventory of the material goods he possesses, and assess reasonably the things he needs to acquire before he has “acquired his share.”

At the end of the line, John D. Rockefeller could not take any more of his possessions with him than you and I can. The manner in which we leave our wealth to our descendants gives us the last control we ever have of anything on Earth. Our lawyers can do their part in seeing that our wishes are accurately fulfilled. But no one can guarantee that our ends will be met exactly.

If money is the source of our power, is money then our only prime impetus? Along the way we may lose our grip on what we have owned, and therefore the power to affect things far in the future.

As Shakespeare says in “Macbeth,” “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Shakespeare had it right, didn’t he?

Or, is it perhaps the greatest expression of greed to give things away that bring, through giving, the maximum joy of pleasure to ourselves? Is giving then, in reality, a selfish act done for the pleasure it brings the giver?