Greed is a term that describes ruthless people with naked ambition, people with an insatiable appetite for riches, those who give new meaning to the word selfish.
Greed evokes images of the rich and famous playing with lavish toys such as luxurious yachts, expensive furs, and mansions that resemble palaces. Think women dripping in diamonds and middle-aged men in expensive sports cars. To greedy people, it’s as much about flaunting material trappings as it is about winning the game. As Gordon Gekko said in Wall Street, “It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses.”
It’s critical, however, not to equate success and wealth with greed. The fact is, many successful people give generously of their wealth and/or their time. It’s also true that you don’t have to be particularly wealthy in order to be able to give. As Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed one.” People without means contribute generously of their time and skills every day, yet others don’t. Greed doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor. There are many ways that greed rears its ugly head every day:
The Many Faces of Greed
Life’s a spectator sport. “Bystanders” who do everything they can to get out of work are greedy people. While colleagues work at a frantic pace, selfish people work hard to avoid working at all. They spend their days moving piles of papers on their desk while they watch everyone else go crazy. These guys wouldn’t lift a finger if their life depended on it. When a job is complete, however, you can bet they’ll be first in line to claim the rewards of the effort made (by someone else).
Gaming the system. Greedy people look for clever ways or loopholes to outsmart rules and regulations, designed to protect the system, for personal gain. Although their actions may be entirely legal, greedy people evade their responsibilities by offloading the costs to others. Examples include companies that incorporate in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes, politicians who waste hard-earned taxpayer money by conducting “official business” at resort destinations, and “shopping bulimics” who take advantage of generous retail store return policies by buying clothes — wearing them a few times — and returning them for credit.
It’s all about me. Leaders should use their power to help others, not themselves. A Christmas Carol is an 1843 tale about Ebenezer Scrooge, a stingy and greedy businessman who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity, or benevolence. In modern times, you’ll find some wealthy business executives who receive an obscene year-end bonus and lavish company benefits while telling employees that the company hasn’t done well enough to support annual employee raises. Why? “Because I’m worth it.” But catch them in a down year, and don’t be surprised when they ask others to “share the pain.”
You’ve got my vote (as long as it doesn’t affect me). Greedy people have strong opinions about issues but expect others to shoulder the burdens. These hypocrites believe that our country should go to war, as long as we send someone else’s kid; the deficit should be reduced, as long as it doesn’t affect their pet projects; taxes should be raised, as long as the taxes to be raised don’t affect their personal pocketbook.
Something for nothing. Greedy people are first in line to ask for more but last in line to put in the work required to earn the rewards. Instead of adopting the view that everyone benefits as the pie gets larger, they view the pie as a constant — there’s only so much to go around. To them, life is a competition governed by any rules you can get away with. They feel they deserve a larger piece, even at someone else’s expense, and they’re going to take it.
Takes all kinds. Greedy people take things that don’t belong to them even at the expense of friends or colleagues. This can take the form of bluffing their way to an unwarranted promotion or accepting credit for someone else’s idea. The fact is, the greedy frequently win at someone else’s expense. They reason that if these losers aren’t smart enough to take the spoils, then the losers don’t deserve them.
Robbing someone’s confidence. Some people bring out the best in others while selfish people focus on themselves — it’s “all about me” is their rallying cry. Greedy people make themselves feel better by tearing other people down rather than by helping others feel good about themselves. Greedy people have the ability to suck the oxygen right out of a room.
Borrowing from the future. Greedy people care about their needs today and kick problems down the road for others to cope with in the future. They put band-aids on problems rather than solving the root cause; they buy things that benefit their organization today rather than investing in its future; they borrow to fund their buying addiction and stick others with the bill. Rather than taking the easy way out, parents, political leaders, executives, and the rest of us have a moral responsibility to provide a legacy for those who follow.
We are such a competitive society. We measure success by finishing in first place, making it to the top of our game, and having better toys than our neighbors. We value instant gratification by encouraging people to consume rather than to save for a rainy day — people borrow money to prove that they live large. We idolize people who drive expensive cars, wear the latest fashions, and live in luxurious homes. Greedy or not, we all help perpetuate the addiction.
The More You Give, the More You Receive
When do we ever stress the importance and value of generosity over material wealth? The fact is, according to one of the longest-running social-science studies of our time, helping others will lead to a beautiful life. Generous people believe that you gain more satisfaction in life from giving rather than taking. They’ve learned that greedy people are never satisfied that they have enough. They’re like sharks that spend their entire life hunting and consuming. All the oceans in the world can’t satisfy these eating machines.
Generous people give out of love, not obligation — without strings attached. Generous people know that a gift doesn’t have to be momentous. It can be as simple as a smile. Giving doesn’t have to be planned. Some of the best gifts in life are random acts of kindness such as creating a special moment for someone to remember. Giving doesn’t have to be from your material wealth; it can be a gift from your heart. It can take the form of giving someone confidence and respect, slowing down enough to provide someone some quality time, or sharing an honest opinion. Giving doesn’t have to provide an immediate benefit. You can give your children a strong sense of values, self-confidence, and a first-class education. Think about it…If enough people make a small gesture for someone else every day, we could transform the world. Do you spend more time giving or taking?
How Do You Feel About Greed?
Are You Enthusiastic for the Success of Others?
Do You Let Envy Get the Better of You?
50 Things Money Can’t Buy
Do You Have a Victim Mentality?
Do You Compare Yourself to Others?
Good Relationships Don’t Keep Score
How Do You See the World Around You?
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Beautifully written and so incredibly on-target. Frank, you say what is often left unsaid: “We have a moral responsibility to provide a legacy for those who follow.” We assume people know this, but I don’t think they really do. Also, parents need to teach their kids by example. If they themselves are greedy, the apple unfortunately won’t fall far from the tree.
Patsy Stewart says
Absolutely true and so well put Frank!! Why is it so hard for people to give back? It is so important in business too! Promoting others, saying thank you by the deeds you do! It’s all so important. As Gray Vaynerchuk puts it, we are living in a “Thank You Economy”. Thank you Frank, for sharing this beautifully written piece.
Susan Mazza says
Love how you shifted the context of greed from what we have to how we think. As you so clearly demonstrate, greed is not a function of wealth, it’s a function of attitude.
Creighton Reed says
The Bible (EXODUS) recall’s God’s tenth commandment to Moses as: “You shall not covet….anything that belongs to your neighbor” Straying from this commandment gets us into trouble ad infinitum.
Dan Fonseca says
Humans are complex creatures, like “sharks”, “the poor wish to be rich, and the rich wish to be richer;” there will always be room for growth and more. That nature can often have positive effects but other times negative ones. Our quest for more leads to competition and betterment of ourselves but at the same time can have negative consequences like greed.
In ancient greek philosophy, I think extreme lifestyles should be avoided. A life of moderation can help steer a life’s ship on the right course. Add that to a life of charity, and you will have all the riches in the world!
Great post! In times of less, we have to think about what we can share and not take away from others…
P.S. Can’t wait to read Gary’s “Thank You Economy” it’s on my list!
Frank Sonnenberg says
Rossana / Patsy / Susan / Creighton / Dan
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.
Patsy, You just sold two books. Like Dan I’m going to pick up the “Thank You Economy” 🙂
Susan, you hit the nail right on the head (and said it better than me). The post “shifted the context of greed from what we have to how we think. . . . greed is not a function of wealth, it’s a function of attitude.”
Sarah @RaisingCEOKids says
Thank you Frank for another great article! As a mom, I am very aware that my actions. Am I being grateful? Am I serving others? Am I showing how to live BIG by giving BIG?
Sarah Cook, Founder of http://RaisingCEOKids.com
Doug Mather says
To paraphrase your last paragraphs, Frank –
Generosity is so much more satisfying than greed.
The only problem is how to get the greedy people to realise that!
Terry Del Percio says
Frank, Great post.
I believe there is nothing much that is more important in this world than learning how to be a giving person. I try to work on it for myself every day. As a result, I think that the unintended positive consequences just go on and on.
Why don’t we (if it hasn’t already been done) declare May to be Kindness Month…and 2011 as the “Year of Being Generous”.
I really like the creative way you listed the many faces of greed. I will be sure to be extra vigilant with myself to make sure I am practicing what I preach.
Thanks for the good words.
Christopher Avery says
Frank, thanks for this. I needed it. <-:
What an excellent unpacking of the various ways we — er, uh, I– land on the island of greed in my head. Really, anytime we are thinking zero-sum and it isn't exactly life-threatening… that's what I read in your eloquent words. It reminds me of the unique interpretation I heard of the parable of the good samaritan: The interpretor was saying that most of us identify (proudly so) with the good samaritan when we should be identifying with the poor fellow who was beat up and left in the ditch.
Theresa Delgado says
Thanks for Tweeting this to me. Now, where do I start…
Like the others who have commented, you could not have written a more eyebrow raising topic better. All of the things you mentioned irk me like you can’t believe. If it weren’t for all those examples of the way people carry on, we would not be in such a “hole”.
Instead of making decisions with the thought of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”; decisions are made with the thought of “I’m gonna look out for #1”.
My husband and I (and my immediate family for that matter) refuse to get caught up in “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. It’s a no-win situation. Not to mention it must be exhausting! What we do and what we have are because we would enjoy the experience.
I truly believe, and have seen it happen, “what goes around comes around” and sometimes you’re there to see it and sometimes you’re not. And knowing that helps to keep me focused on the kind of person I want to be.
Thanks for a great post – Theresa
PS: Thought you might like this quote…
Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.— Thoreau
Frank Sonnenberg says
Sarah, Doug, Terry, Christopher and Theresa
Thanks for your wonderful comments :- )
My goal for writing this blog is to start a conversation about ethics and values. I am so happy to see the response that we’re receiving and grateful to everyone who is helping to pass along these messages to others. From the looks of things this post touched a nerve. Thanks again for sharing your comments with everyone!
Tara Alemany says
Thanks for sharing this wonderful post, Frank. I love your statement in the final paragraph that “Generous people know that a gift doesn’t have to be momentous.” I completely agree with that.
There is one “commodity” we each have that is priceless. When spent, it cannot be refunded or reclaimed. We are each allotted the same amount of it every day, no more, no less than our neighbor. As a result, when we give of this commodity generously (without being asked), it’s value is beyond compare. Love prompts us to use it wisely. Those who spend it lavishly on our family, our communities and the world around us are often viewed as “heroes,” because it’s something we don’t naturally use well.
Have you guessed what it is I’m referring to? It’s TIME! Those small gestures have such a huge impact because we spent our time doing them. We took the effort to think of them. We gave of a commodity we have no hope of regaining.
Thanks for reminding us that being greedy doesn’t get us anywhere, and that it certainly doesn’t improve our world. In fact, being greedy is a huge part of the problems in the world around us!
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks for your comments Tara.
You are right on the mark! Time is our most valuable commodity. In fact, I’m working on a new post called, “What’s the Rush?” It discusses the fact that we lose something very special in our mad dash through life. Thanks again for your thoughts Tara.
I now realize how I generally thought of greed as only about a never-satisfied appetite for money and material objects. Your words opened me up to the other forms this ‘deadly sin’ can take on. Some of these are seemingly more deadly than the more overt money-mongering practices we see everywhere. If you don’t have money or means, give guidance and thought. If you’re absent the means and skills in need, than give your time. We should always be mindful of the other ways we can be greedy other than always taking that penny from the jar at the counter but never leaving one.
“Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!”
– maybe that last line should be: “If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then …see if they need volunteers at the local soup kitchen/library/vet’s hospital/etc ?
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks for your thoughts Marc.
As the saying goes, “Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.” Given that train of thought, greed is not a function of wealth, it’s a function of attitude.
Excellently written Frank and I particularly love the last bit, where everybody can make a difference. Thank you as always for sharing. I am in the running for a Humanitarian job, so hold thumbs. Love Lau
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks so much for dropping by Laureen. Much appreciated!
I’m so glad this post rings true in South Africa as in the states. I guess people are people wherever they live. Good luck with the Humanitarian job. You’ve got my vote!
Great comments Frank! Keep it up.
Bull’s eye! You’ve really defined what greed really is.
Jeffrey Baril says
Great read. Well thought-out and entertaining piece.
To me, another form of greed, is insisting on receiving attention due to any act of generosity on their part.
If not for the glory, would the act be done at all?
Jeffrey Baril of “Source Blogger”
Frank Sonnenberg says
george, Emac, Jeffrey
Thanks for your thoughts. Much appreciated.
Jeffrey. GREAT point. Thanks so much for sharing.
Have a wonderful day!
Michael Hall age 14 says
hey i put my age there for a reason, i want you to know my opinion and my age, so, i’ve been doing a report on greed and i have been to many sites like this, and i’ve gathered enough information to have an opinion about this, GREED ISN’T A CHOICE!! have you ever noticed that in nature animals and plants seek more for themselfs, more food, or more sun, thats greed so greed is the nature of all living things, i believe everyone here including me is in some form, wiether it be small like most of us or big like rich people they do have to work for such things and so they deserve to buy things expensive for themselfs i know this isn’t really applying to the emotional greed type thing more physical but still, if you had worked for a long time and spent your money right, would you immediately give it away? i dont think so, you’d think i worked hard for this money, and i want it so i can get my just due, just as poor people are as such because of cercomestance and bad choices, i feel bad for poor people and if i can help them on my way i will but im not about to go out of my way to make everyones life better, i know that sounds selfish but still most people have that state of mind as is our nature, i aploaud you all for fighting your greed, thanks for reading my comment :D.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks so much for your thoughts.
I understand exactly what you’re saying. Like you, I believe that if you work hard and make it to the top of your game, you have the right to do whatever you’d like with your money. When you get there (and, I know you will) you may find that you get as much pleasure from giving to others as keeping it all for yourself. I wish you much success in all that you do.
Thanks Frank for a wonderful article. Its frustrating though it seems there not much being done to these people who are greedy. There seems to be no repercussions and these are becoming a nature of human character. So my point is do we join them?
Frank Sonnenberg says
Edward, you make an excellent point. In fact, I’m sure many people thought the same thing as they read this post. The fact is, once you lower your standards, you lose a lot more than you’ve gained. You should take pride in the way in which you live your life. I’m sure you can sleep well at night.
Have a great day!
Thank you so much for your article. It is very well written; spot on on the facets of greed.
It is interesting that you mentioned sleeping well at night. I have a mate who exhibits every aspect of what you wrote and cannot sleep at night. I figure greed torments…
No, I won’t join their game. Stick to your guns and one day your reward will come.
Frank Sonnenberg says
You’re right…Greed torments. That’s why your mate can’t sleep at night. The alternative is leading a giving life. It’s NEVER to late to change.
Have an awesome day.
I gave my greatest discovery for free and barely anyone cared. Now I’m like Mr. Schrooge and keep it for myself.
Frank Sonnenberg says
I understand what you’re saying. Some people feel a sense of entitlement. It doesn’t take much for them to show a little gratitude.