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  • Writer's pictureJessie Cheng

love and greed... can they co-exist? 

TLDR: i don’t think so.  

This is the strange irony: that in our search for more possessions, power, and position, what we actually want but are too scared to admit is that we want love, both to receive it and to give it without fear.

What if we were made for more? 

As children, many of us dreamed of becoming fire fighters, teachers, and veterinarians. “I want to help others,” is what many children will explain when you ask them why. Children remind us that there’s a universal, innate desire within each of us to contribute to something beyond ourselves. 

In a capitalist, consumerist society, however, our propensity to practice generosity becomes muted as we grow older. Greed is the new god. Why work in non-profit, education, or healthcare when we can make six figures on Wall Street straight out of undergrad and bask in great benefits, security, and money? Where is the harm in a small white lie if it means great financial gain? Why save water, care for the planet, or learn about social injustice when we only have a few decades on Earth, and the world is going to end anyways? 

Because love cannot exist so long as greed prevails. If love promotes safety, trust, integrity, and kindness, greed promotes fear, lies, consumption, and stinginess. Greed is the answer to “How can I get more?” whereas love is the answer to “How can I give more?” 

In feminist theorist Bell Hook’s book All About Love, Hooks conveys how we are a society that fears lovelessness and craves love in all its forms, yet we are unwilling to accept that greed is a major barricade. Love is no longer a priority in our jobs, politics, or schools. We all search for intimate and fulfilling love, but we grow hesitant once the presence of love threatens our greed and desire to dominate others. 

Dominate others?” That sounds overly aggressive. Well, it does until we realize it is quite literally what a capitalist, consumerist, and patriarchal society encourages. We fight each other for toilet paper and Stanley cups. Men feel threatened when women assert their minds or call out misogyny. Guns and political agendas still matter more than safety and life. Financial corruption is seen as an unideal yet inevitable practice instead of something that makes our blood boil. The privileged entice the less privileged with money and position in exchange for their bodies. We dispose of people as if they are objects the second they fail to fulfill our self-centered, never-satisfiable wants. We desire true love, believe it no longer exists, and then wonder why. 

But greed feels necessary. We live in a capitalist society. We need to be realistic. We need to be wary and we can’t trust anyone but Money. We need to pay rent and retire early and stay on top of trends. 

Right, which is why practicing generosity in a culture of greed feels so undesirable. It is counter-cultural. It is uncomfortable. It is committing to love in a society where committing to self-promotion feels safer. Because of how encouraged and normalized greed is, generosity has become associated with naiveté. It is seen as a practice reserved only for the wealthy, the religious, and the pretentious.

Greed is the answer to “How can I get more?” whereas love is the answer to “How can I give more?” 

In a culture of greed, we give with the expectation of return. At the end of the day, it is still about exchange and benefits for the self. We are afraid of practicing true generosity - giving that expects nothing back - because we are still afraid to love. Fear is a by-product of greed, which tells us love and vulnerability endanger our safety. Greed targets the discontentment within and suggests the void must be filled with more greed, rather than love. 

Our culture of greed explains why some of the richest people in this country still feel so empty, and why many of us say, “I’d be doing something else with my life if it made me more money.” We forget that compared to the rest of the world, we are filthy rich and privileged - the things that are seen as luxury items in other countries are commodities in ours - but we are still so discontent and restless. We think love is something we can earn from others, so we acquire more, hyper-fixate on our appearances, and grab at money, just for these efforts to reinforce the lie that love doesn’t exist anymore because they fail us. I don’t think any of these occurrences are coincidences; they are evidence of how deeply greed has taken root in our society. Is it truly a surprise, then, for injustice to still be so commonplace, and for the longing for intimate, trusting love to still feel so unfulfillable?

We weren’t made just to live for ourselves. It fails to satisfy, it cannot lead to a just world, and it prevents us from experiencing true and intimate love. 

We were made for more, just not in the way we expected. This is the strange irony: that in our search for more possessions, power, and position, what we actually want but are too scared to admit is that we want love, both to receive it and to give it without fear. But for love to become the new norm, we need to reject greed - which may feel like an abandonment of self but is actually an alignment with our most authentic, renewed self - and to have the courage to love through generosity that expects nothing in return. 

In many faiths, there is a principle that acknowledges the foolishness of seeking fulfillment through worldly things. I grew up with the Christian faith, and in the Bible, Jesus is honest and says that we can only serve God or Money - it is black or white, one or the other (Matthew 6:24). That is how much lordship we often give Money, and along with it, the idols of Power, Position, and Possession. But Jesus also promises greater fulfillment found in following and glorifying Him. It is removing the focus from ourselves and onto Him. It is also why the highest invitations in Christianity are to love God and to love others as ourselves: love is the fabric, love is the commandment, love is the blessing we both give and truly experience only when fear is absent. 

Generosity is an acknowledgement that love is the antidote to greed. It is an acknowledgement that because we only have a few decades on Earth and the world is going to end anyways, we might as well stop holding ourselves back from embracing love and tackling the culture of greed with generosity. As we reflect on this day of love, which has evolved into another holiday for capitalism to flourish, my hope is that we can commit to re-building a culture of generosity. May we no longer settle for the culture of greed, but be reignited by the truth that we are meant for more. That we begin to truly thrive - not just live - when we exist in a culture where the children who dream of becoming fire fighters, teachers, and veterinarians have the courage to pursue those dreams with authenticity, and where all of us can finally experience and give love with complete fearlessness and joy.

Questions to Ponder: 

  1. Where are areas greed appear within my life? 

  2. What have my misconceptions of love been? How have those misconceptions been fueled by greed within others or within myself? 

  3. What are 1-2 practical ways I can practice generosity this week, as a commitment to building a culture of love? 

Challenges for rejecting greed and practicing generosity:

  1. Rejecting job offers or business deals that come at the expense of others 

  2. Sharing job opportunities you find with others or connecting them to folks in your network

  3. Finding healthier coping mechanisms if retail therapy is our primary way of coping with distress 

  4. Treating someone to a meal or coffee 

  5. Offering someone a ride or carpooling

  6. Mentoring younger folks and giving them resources/insight 

  7. Checking in with friends and family over text, call, or FaceTime (time is a resource, too!) 

  8. Asking our loved ones how we can become better people and love them through action

  9. Spending at least one night per week with people you love and disconnecting from social media

  10. Limiting / eliminating fast fashion purchasing habits

  11. Getting a refillable water bottle to reduce waste / save water for future generations

  12. Celebrating others' wins without putting them down or comparing yourself to them

  13. Giving a random gift or sending an encouraging note to someone 

  14. Donating regularly to organizations that support good causes 

  15. Donating old clothes or giving away possessions we no longer use 

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