Monday, March 29, 2010

Having too much stuff a sign of greed

NEAR THE END of a game of rummy, a player reached out to take a whole stack of visible face cards and aces. Then he suddenly withdrew his hand.

"Don’t be greedy," he said, out loud to himself.

Instead, he took a single card from the deck, a card he couldn’t see until he turned it over. By opting for the single unknown card instead of the pile of obviously valuable cards, and going against his initial greedy instinct, he won.

In rummy, players collect points by playing runs and triplets, with aces and face cards counting for more points. But if a player isn’t able to play those valuable cards before the hand is over, their point value is subtracted from his or her score. It’s counterproductive to greedily collect lots of valuable cards just to hold onto them.

If greed can lose a game, no wonder it’s considered one of life’s seven deadly sins.

Like the player who collects the best-looking cards, we gather stuff because we think it looks good in our possession.

Think of the conspicuous consumer, who buys the biggest, the best and the most of everything not because he or she needs it, but to look important. Think of the wealthy and powerful who build intimidating structures as monuments to their own prestige. The same people buy weaponry or technology not to cure disease or end poverty, but to obtain more wealth and power by threatening those that have neither.

Sometimes, we collect stuff in case we’ll need it someday, but even 150 years is not long enough to use all the obsolete electronic bits and pieces in some stashes.

We may collect because we want it all, whatever it is. The objects may be stamps, medieval art or china figurines, but greedy collectors will do almost anything to own them.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with owning a good car, building a skyscraper, or collecting objects of art or interest.

But think about this. A person can have a garage full of vehicles but can ride only one at a time. Meanwhile, some elderly pensioner pushes a cart to the grocery store or a sick kid doesn’t have a ride to the hospital.

Similarly, there are skyscrapers side by side on the world’s busy city streets, full of acres of empty indoor space. A single office foyer might accommodate 10 homeless people, but they sleep outdoors in the building’s doorways instead.

It seems sad rather than greedy to collect extra stuff against future need, but while small mountains of possessions are hoarded, they can’t be used by someone else. So more are made and purchased, at a cost to the Earth and the creatures that live on it.

Obsessed collectors can put the objects of their desire ahead of personal needs, relationships and even human life. People are murdered for their possessions and children are starved so adults can fulfil their obsessions.

The nasty thing about Greed, with a capital G, is that it hurts other people.

We’re greedy because we’re frightened. We’re afraid we’ll be measured by our possessions and found wanting. We’re afraid of being needy, powerless and vulnerable and we think having more than our share of stuff can prevent that.

Instead, it just moves the need and helplessness to the next person along, and the next, in a domino effect.

It takes courage to turn over the unknown card and let someone else have the valuable stuff for which we have no true use.

Let it go. Our trust belongs elsewhere.

Rummy Story from

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