My dear friend Gunther Weil, whom I have quoted in this blog before, is one of my greatest teachers and mentors. His clear insights into people, values and the true meaning of life have deeply influenced me and many people I know.
Recently, Gunther and I had a conversation about money and its role in our lives. Here are some of the excerpts:
Jennifer: Most of us know that the economy we’ve built is simply not sustainable. What’s really going on here?
Gunther: The newest scandal coming out of England around the fixing of the LIBOR index really struck me as the most recent example of how corrupt our financial institutions are. Of course, it’s not just the financial institutions. All institutions have become corrupt because we measure their success or failure by a single metric: money. We see the same kind of thing happening in the classical institutions of education, medicine and law. What’s happening in politics is obvious.
The latest financial scandal is just another example of this. To see something like LIBOR – which should be a trusted, accurate number –being fixed for the benefit of the few is an indicator of how deep the corruption goes.
We are living in what Harvard Political Philosophy Professor, Dr. Michael Sandel describes as “market society”. It’s no longer just a market economy. “Market society” – is an accurate descriptor. Everything is for sale and has a dollar value on it. Our decision-making is driven by the question, what is the price? Money has become the exclusive measure of worth – not principals or other values. Our lives are almost completely commercialized in the process. Money has become even more of a God. We can see more and more of this kind of imbalance in all of our major institutions. The corruption of the monetary systems is a reflection of a very deep level of fear and mistaken identity for nearly everyone in our society.
JM: What is it about money that infuses so much fear in so many people?
GW: Money itself doesn’t infuse fear. The fear is there already in people.
It just gets attached to money as the vehicle. If someone has a deep sense of insecurity, it doesn’t matter if they have a lot of money or not. Money simply becomes the expression of that insecurity. In a market society, when we use money as a measure of worth, then it is going to carry the weight of a great deal of fear.
This is essentially a symptom of people having no connection or very little connection to their inner lives or a felt sense of Being. When there is no inner life to balance the outer life, everything gets measured by external criteria. In our society, we get especially caught up in the metrics of money, which is easily quantifiable and measurable. Fear is nothing more than a projection of people’s own division and sense of emptiness within themselves; a grasping for security, as if that could be fulfilled strictly at a financial level by more and more consumption or wealth.
Like everyone, I am not immune to this. I’ve had my own issues and projections about money. I was born in Nazi Germany in 1937. My parents lived through a number of horrendous years there before coming to the U.S when I was two years old. I grew up with a core belief/story that I couldn’t be successful or feel a sense of ease around feeling bountiful. I was uncomfortable with money because I absorbed my parent’s belief that they should not ask for anything more beyond the fact that their lives were spared. Asking for anything more was asking for too much. I grew up with that core story and it took many years for me to deconstruct it. I would always question and undercut myself when I got close to success as measured by societal norms. I had a core belief that I didn’t deserve it.
JM: This idea of breaking down our stories is so central to living an authentic life.
GW: The way we start to break down our stories and projections is to begin to understand the truth of our Being. Truly and impartially seeing our own conditioning and how subject we are to that kind of scripted mechanicality is the beginning of real freedom.
The key is understanding our foundational spiritual values and seeing how they operate in our lives. When we do that, we can begin to see ourselves and others as more than just consumers. Our heart of compassion starts to open up. We stop operating primarily in terms of rank and hierarchies. We are willing and able to speak the truth because we are connected to our Being instead of trying to placate people or make a good impression out of fear or a desire for acceptance. We seek more authentic relationships in all areas of our lives including professional and financial relationships.
JM: This is at the heart of what I teach. Building authentic relationships requires us to know ourselves and also to be able to speak truthfully to each other, to be a mirror for the other and to allow them to be mirrors to us.
GW: That can be especially challenging when dealing with people of wealth and possessors of culturally defined power. So few people, including their advisors, tell them the truth. Sycophants usually surround them. Part of them has created that need for flatterers and fawners out of their own insecurities. But there certainly is also another significant part that desires to have real and meaningful relationships. In other words, friends and professionals, who don’t just prop them up and tell them how wonderful they are, but are willing to speak the truth to them. This requires deep listening and asking meaningful questions about the meaning of money in their lives. This points to a level of their Being beyond the surface of their financial status and social identity – an inquiry about their worldview, beliefs and core values. This has the possibility, although not the guarantee, of opening up a new perspective on living more authentically, which in turn creates more well-being.
JM: Why are we so often not able to be in an authentic relationship with others?
GW: Again, when we’re not connected to our inner lives, our Being, we are going to be in this constant dynamic of ranking others and ourselves and manipulating them. This leads us into a discussion about selling. I don’t have a belief that selling is in and of itself negative, but selling without other values – without introducing aspects of caring, real engagement, quality, and love – is not going to lead anywhere beyond a superficial level of consumerism for both the seller and the client or customer. But, if there’s a real balance between one’s Being and the outer professional personality, then the work you are doing with others, including selling, is itself a great laboratory to objectively see oneself. In this way our professional lives provide a great opportunity to impartially see our traits and tendencies and become free of them.
JM: Why is it so hard to see these tendencies? Why do we try to escape them by whatever means possible.
GW: Living in a “Market Society” there is a constant, insidious need for achievement and status. Since this is ultimately an impossible task, we medicate ourselves with consumerism, antidepressants, drugs and alcohol. They become a way of anesthetizing our pain of feeling disconnected with the source of our Being so we can mistakenly continue to focus on the “externals” that carry the promise of happiness. Again there is nothing intrinsically wrong with achievement, but if it’s carrying the burden of your inner life it’s such a pale imitation of what’s real. There’s a part of us that knows when we are not connected to the truth of our Being. That’s the part we need to listen to, and yet that’s the part that gets squashed down further by all the ways we are trying to escape it including multitudinous forms of anesthetization. We won’t allow ourselves to experience fully deeper levels of our Being. Later in life, it can take the form of disease and illness.
JM: One of the things I like about the weekends is that it gives us time to turn away from the striving and achievement and focus on something deeper than consumerism. Yet I often find myself restless and unable to fully relax then because of some nagging feeling that I should be doing more. What’s your experience with this?
GW: The guilt comes from the widely held belief or core story that we’re not doing enough. We’re not good enough, rich enough, strong enough, beautiful enough, etc. There’s intense social messaging that reinforces that, combined with life long religious and mass media conditioning. If you know that about yourself, that you “buy into” that story in some way or another, even on a small scale, it allows you to create points in your daily life where we can disengage, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time, to remember your Being or essential nature. Of course, having some experience in meditation can help create that quality of relaxed attention that supports a creative disengagement.
In Chinese there’s a word Fang Song that translates inadequately as “relaxation”. But the Chinese idea of relaxation is different than the American, which is typically opening a beer and turning on the TV. A better translation suggests the notion of “relaxed attention”. A quality of relaxation in both the mind, emotions and body operating in harmony. Fang Song is simultaneously aware, present and relaxed. The correct practice of Tai Chi is an example of this.
JM: When we’re in this loop of more, we do things that are often counter to our own wisdom. I find myself buying things I don’t need and then later feeling a bit empty inside.
GW: Yes, there is the challenge of feeling fully connected to yourself when you are in the store. Having that connection, that quality of presence/awareness gives you the freedom and discernment to say yes or no. Whether you buy the thing or not isn’t really relevant, it’s a question of whether you felt you really had the freedom to say yes or no. Perhaps when you’re feeling that need to consume you could go take a short walk or sit somewhere for a few minutes, “relax” in the sense I described and observe yourself. Make friends with what’s going on inside and then trace it back. Investigate the story behind the desire to buy something you don’t really need.
JM: Last question. Our culture is built on a pioneering mentality that we should be self-sufficient, independent, take care of ourselves. It seems to me we’ve done this at the expense of community and taking care of each other. Can you talk a bit about this from a values-perspective?
GW: “I did it my way” is a myth, perhaps perpetuated, in part by Frank Sinatra’s song by that title. Even though it’s a cultural anthem of sorts, especially here in America, it is a myth. Nobody succeeds solely on their own. We always need others to accomplish ambitious goals. How we relate to our colleagues and associates is the real question. Do we relate to them in a competitive, survival based, manipulative or herd mentality? Or as true collaborators? I like the term “collaborative individualist. A marriage is a good example of this. Is your marriage all about you doing things your way, or a balance of both partners’ wishes and goals? A balanced relationship means being able to have the capacity to truly know yourself, fully embodying and expressing who you are, your values, skills, desires, etc. as well as knowing and celebrating your partner’s values, skills and desires, giving each other room to grow.
I’m 75 years young. My professional life now is about working with people with whom I feel a bond of connection, care and love; undertaking projects that matter, in order to make a positive contribution and difference in the lives of others. In other words, working both individually and together with others in the spirit of Collaborative Individualism.
Gunther M. Weil, Ph.D. is the founder, and CEO of Value Mentors. He is an organizational consultant, family advisor, executive coach, educator and psychologist. For the past 35 years he has provided wise guidance to senior executives, family businesses, and for-profit and non-profit organizations in the areas of values based leadership and organizational culture, innovation, team building, strategic planning, conflict resolution and executive wellness. He has served many institutions in the United States, and Western and Eastern Europe in both the public and private sector with clients from diverse institutions and industries including The MIT Media Lab, CAA, ID-PR, Citibank, Chase Manhattan Bank, Credit Suisse, AT&T, McCann Erickson, Minolta, the Federal Aviation Agency, the Peace Corps, Young Presidents Organization, HCA/Health One, Team Training International, Naropa University, The Van Heyst Group, Veris Wealth Partners and many others.
Weil earned his doctorate from Harvard University in 1965 and served as a Fulbright Scholar in Oslo, Norway. His early professional mentors included Carl Rogers, the creator of Client Centered Psychotherapy, Arne Naess, the founder of Deep Ecology, and Abraham Maslow, the father of Humanistic Psychology.
Dr. Weil is a licensed Psychologist, and is certified in the HeartMath® Inner Quality Management Program; Cultural Transformation Tools (CTT); and as a Master Values Mentor by the Minessence Group of Australia. He is also certified as a Master Trainer of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). In 2001 he and his wife, Ellen were personally invited by Eckhart Tolle, best selling author of “The Power of Now”’, and “A New Earth” to teach the Practice of Presence. He is also a 40 year practitioner of Tai Chi Chuan and Master Instructor of Qi Gong.