I haven’t seen the “Wolf of Wall Street, but I’m guessing money is involved. Actually, I know it is. I don’t know if people like the movie because of the fast-paced, high-flying lifestyle, the fast-rise and unbelievable wealth of the young wolf, or the justice of a federal conviction. It may be all of these things, and it does sound like a good story.
I read that the author and central character had a serious drug addiction during the time his star was shining brightly. But is the other addiction highlighted as prominently in the movie? What addiction? The addiction to wealth.
I think this addiction goes beyond simple greed.
“For the Love of Money” is an op-ed piece in last Saturday’s New York Times. The author, Sam Polk, recounts his rise from an entry-level position with a bonus of $40,000 to earning a salary of $1.75 million (plus bonus) in less than five years. He was obsessed with earning more – with a goal of accumulating $1 billion. Polk describes his obsession with money as an addiction and his first year after walking away as withdrawal. Withdrawal. Understand, Polk still had millions of dollars.
The world he lived in may seem like it’s a million frequent flyer miles away from ours. I think this type of thinking is dangerous. It’s easy to say that if I received a multi-million dollar bonus, that I would be content. But would I? What if I received half a million, or $100,000 – or the $40,000 bonus he received his first year? After all, the poverty line in the U.S. for a family of eight is just under $40,000. Certainly $40,000 would be enough. I would be rich, enough. Right?
But I don’t think so.
As soon as I have that $40,000, I begin to think what I can buy or what I can put away so I’ll be financially secure. As soon as I buy that something special, I notice what someone else has bought. I see a commercial for the newer version. I read an article about the next best thing. And I want it. I may even convince myself I need it.
ad·dic·tion noun \ə-ˈdik-shən, a-\
: a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)
: an unusually great interest in something or a need to do or have something
I’ve talked with people who suffer from drug addiction. In no way do I want to diminish the iron strength of drugs over the mind and body and the devastation they do to self and family. But I think addiction to money is just as serious. In some ways, more serious because it is an addiction socially celebrated and spiritually damning – and therefore easy to hide the damage it does.
Addiction to money, and the things it buys and the power it grants, feed systems of inequality in our world. This addiction is a weapon of oppression. It is the measure of an individual’s worth. It is an addiction that will never be sated and is fed in almost every interaction we have with the world around us.
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. – Matthew 6:24 (CEB)
For those who are trying to break this addiction, or simply live without it, recovery is not celebrated. Others may hold you in contempt, judging you as lazy or unmotivated – or useless. They may see you as overly pious and no fun. Uncomfortable with a glimpse of truth, they may cling even more tightly to their addiction allowing it to comfort and assure them that they are simply “realistic” and “smart,” rather than addicted. All addictions lie, and addicts believe the lie because it seems to be an easier path to walk than the truth.
The Wolf of Wall Street and Sam Polk are examples of this addiction. But what does it look like in a “normal person’s” life? More on that next time.
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal. – 1 Timothy 6:10 (CEB)