Stories are the way humans communicate. That’s how societies often teach morals and values. Jesus did it, and so did just about every other spiritual leader. We still do it today, with movies, books, and plays.
“Greed is good” appears to be the moral of many stories. Many movies, especially, tell tales of people with luxurious lives and ridiculous amounts of money. The 1987 film “Wall Street” tells the story of a ruthless stockbroker who relentlessly chases the next dollar. But in that story, greed is only good until everyone is convicted of fraud. So the real moral is that greed leads to corruption and remorse. “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Big Short,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and several other recent films follow the same pattern.
Wealth is dangerous
The message that greed is not good, but corrupting, goes back into early literature. One of my favorites is from Norse mythology: the tale of Sigurd the dragon slayer. There’s a dwarf, Fafnir, who obsessively hoarded pile of gold and gems, living in the wilderness to keep his powerful ring and wealth hidden from the world. His lust for the ring and the gold cause him to devolve into a hideous dragon. Sigurd, the hero, slays the dragon Fafnir.
Tolkien obviously was inspired by these old stories. Fafnir’s greed made him something ugly and villainous. And his wealth, instead of benefiting others, lies useless in a dank mountain nook.
So, what’s the message?
Find joy in the commonplace
When Sigurd kills the dragon, he is given a gift — the power to understand the language of the birds. Rather than hoarding material things, the true joy in life is to appreciate nature, beauty, and small moments. To fight for causes we believe in. To take care of our friends and neighbors. To be kind and good.
That reminds me of a poem by Lowell L. Bennion,, a man from whom I derive great comfort and guidance.
“Learn to like what doesn't cost much.
Learn to like reading, conversation, music.
Learn to like plain food, plain service, plain cooking.
Learn to like fields, trees, brooks, hiking, rowing, climbing hills.
Learn to like people, even though some of them may be different from you.
Learn to like work and enjoy the satisfaction of doing your job as well as it can be done.
Learn to like the songs of birds, the companionship of dogs.
Learn to like gardening, puttering around the house, and fixing things.
Learn to like the sunrise and sunset, the beating of rain on the roof and windows, and the gentle fall of snow on a winter day.
Learn to keep your wants simple and refuse to be controlled by the likes and dislikes of others.”
I have some resolutions for 2018, but first and foremost my goal will be to not be greedy. I won’t pursue titles or riches. I won’t let ambition get in the way of my values. I will try to remember what truly makes us happy—a humble life, family, and friends. Although we may slay some dragons, simple (often free) joys like the companionship of birds are often the greatest reward.
With highest regards,