Monday, September 22, 2008

Faith, Hope, and Love: Elements of an Appreciative Economy

Faith, Hope, and Love: Elements of an Appreciative Economy

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope.
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
—T.S. Eliot
, Four Quartets

My economic behavior is governed by many things—mine and others’ needs, desires, available resources and products, social value, and moral and ethical currents, to name a few. Much depends upon my presence of mind, how much I can slow my inner processes down to evaluate the circumstances, my strength to assess the source of desire, resist where I should, and then understand the reality of how one pays for the transaction, whether credit, cash or other means of exchange. Imagine, if you will, all these transactions happening in an appreciative economy, one that values the warmth of recognition, inspiration, and relationships, supported rather than driven by economic activity. In an appreciative economy, money makes compassion more economically feasible than greed.

Financial transactions constitute a subset of broader economic activity. They are elements in the landscape of exchange. They have their qualities that I will explore from the perspectives of faith, hope, and love—not terms we normally associate with money. In the passage from Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot situates these concept-percepts in the soul as part of an inner dialogue: “I said to my soul…” They are connected to each other, yet each has its own characteristic gesture. I am motivated to engage in financial transactions for many of the reasons indicated. But, not all financial transactions are the same. For example, the same dollar can be used for a purchase, a loan, or a gift. Each use or function is distinguished by the degree of attention I pay to relationship and time. Just as the soul gestures of faith, hope, and love are distinct from each other, so too are the archetypal qualities of those transactions. But the two are connected as I experience them. By understanding how those qualities and their soul gestures are active in financial transactions, it is my hope that to offer some inner reflective tools for bringing more consciousness to money and its uses toward an evolving appreciative economy.

What do I mean by faith? The word denotes religious practices, but I would like to frame it from the perspective of a quality of soul. What is behind faith? And, how is it constructed such that I can recognize its presence regardless of a specific outer form or expression? First, my assessment is that faith, if not simply presumed by tradition, is built upon a complex of outer and inner inquiries and experiences over time. One superficial example is how one develops faith in a brand product. The first encounter is with the product and what the manufacturer and advertisers “promise” about how it will perform. That message is then either confirmed or contradicted by my experience with the product. Over time, I no longer have to evaluate whether or not I want to buy the product. If experience continually confirms the promise, the product has earned my loyalty and thus my faith in its value. The selection of that particular product is now part of my habit life, and of course makes my shopping time more efficient.

The point is that faith develops over time. It has an inherent historical framework, and usually a point of reference such as a body of religious knowledge or a consumer need. These kinds of faith are quite different in their degree of depth and the power they hold. Brand allegiance is not all that deep, or there would not be so much money spent on maintaining it. By contrast, imagine casually suggesting to someone that they change their religion. Religion has a body of knowledge, values and practices that have such cultural and historical reach that some are considered borne by blood. This could be considered a form of cell or tissue memory, a kind of atavistic presence that reaches well into the past.

Loan transactions share something of this historical aspect in the sense that I take a loan in order to accomplish something, purchase a house, for example, and then pay for the use of those funds over time—whatever the agreement established at the time. While I am writing the monthly check in the present, the true reference is to the historical event. Hopefully, as part of the loan origination, there was a great deal of due diligence done by both parties to the transaction. I want to know who is lending me the money, what the exact terms of the agreement are, and what the remedies are should they be needed. And the lender is likely asking me about my creditworthiness, my financial history, where I work and how much I make, etc. The purpose of this “dance” is to validate the history and intentions of the borrower (what I will do with the money), and to determine, based on that historical picture, whether or not the future will be consistent enough with that history in order to assure the success of the loan. In other words, does the lender have faith enough in me and the activity I want to finance to make the loan? And, do I as a borrower have enough faith in my ability to honor my loan commitment?

Loan transactions are based in faith, regardless of how objective the loan process may appear.

When I say that I hope for something—someone’s good health, or for something to happen—I am projecting an intention out into the future. Hope is future bearing. To attach specific outcomes or a time frame to it changes it from hope into an expectation. And, I have a different relationship to each, though I am not always clear in conveying which one I am actually inwardly holding. Pure hope is nothing but an open ended imagination that may inspire me or others, but leaves me or others free to act upon that hope or not. After all it is my hope, not theirs. This inner freedom is not of the political sort; it has nothing to do with rights or agreements. Instead, it arises from a spiritual, moral, or ethical place which only I can access or know for myself. Therefore, if I listen to my own hope and decide to realize it through my own volition, I have made a commitment or agreement with myself. It moves from hope to a kind of duty. If someone else responds to my stated hope, they also enter this same process for themselves. While it may be quite gratifying for me, I also have to realize that I have no control over the other person’s process. They have taken it up out their own inner freedom and for their own reasons.

Thus, hope has a deeply philanthropic aspect to it. When I make a financial gift, say to a charity, it only becomes a gift because I have given up any control of the money. If the gift comes with expectations or restrictions, it is still a gift but not a truly free one. The standard acknowledgment line which states that you have received no goods or services in return for the gift is a simple expression of this deeper principle. One might say that a gift has a spiritual value in reciprocity for the sacrifice of any material value. (Tax benefits aside!)

The aspect of freedom is paramount for a gift. If I make a gift based on an intention and in freedom, and it is received in freedom and with recognition of that intention, then something quite new has happened in the realm of transactions—a kind of destiny moment in which two parties are aligned, but totally out of free choice.

And, the true gift aspect of a gift tends to operate outside the rational basis of time. When I make a gift to a charity, that gift is usually quickly transformed into purchase by the charity—to pay salaries, rent, buy equipment or whatever. However, the gift element remains in the capacity of the charity to benefit lives. This aspect cannot be predicted. In educating a child, one does not know what capacity that individual will bring to the world, or when it may emerge. However, it is pretty likely that the educational process itself can be credited with having contributed to building that capacity. So a gift is entirely future bearing.

Gift transactions are based in hope regardless of the level of negotiation and agreement it might take to secure the gift.

Just the thought of trying to delimit love as a soul capacity seems daunting. Love is one of those overly sentimentalized terms and everyone has his or her associations connected to it for better or worse. Despite its frequency and demotic use—Robert Indiana’s memorializing it in sculptural form, and its use in scoring tennis games come to mind—it has endured because of the deep significance of what it represents for our survival as a species. The Greek philosophers worked hard at identifying some its many aspects from the physical to the spiritual, and teasing out its rightful place in our consciousness and the qualities of our relationships.

Love is so central to my well being, so critical to the buoyancy of my life, that its presence is ever-present. And in a way that is just the point. Love and the practice of love are relatively meaningless except in the present. Love is the tool by which I fully engage in the world and know what is coming toward me from the world, sometimes long before I can make sense of that knowing in my head. The practice of love is also the generator of the energetic field that I have around me that unconsciously interacts and exchanges with others. Love is essentially connected with our being rather than our doing. It is a capacity of feeling that helps us to be awake to and interested in others and their needs. Because it is so linked with my presence, I should not, in the ideal, need to summon it as a force from some shadowed depths. It is instead a matter of my being awake to it as it speaks through my decisions and actions.

Thus, when I am making purchases, exchanging money for goods or services, it is neither faith nor hope that is qualitatively present, but rather, love. Purchases have no historical or future reference. The value is solely in the equality of exchange at the time. As I know only too well when reselling anything, the value may be very different in the next exchange. As opposed to loans and gifts, purchases happen very quickly and often in isolation. If I were to slow any of them down, all the variables that made that transaction possible might come into view: the thinking that went into the creation of the product; the labor that went into its production; the market that made it available; the vendor actually selling it; then the need that I have; the work that went into earning the money to make the purchase; my values…and so on. Suddenly, the purchase exchange represents the whole of our interdependent economic life encapsulated in one moment. There are potential challenges in this process. Because as a typical consumer I am seeking a good deal, I would have to be blind to the consequences of cheap labor, externalized costs, and environmental damage that allowed the price to be so low. If I were to slow down some purchases, I might actually be awakened to the mistreatment of people and animals that made such an advantageous price possible. I would be confronted with the discrepancy between my espoused values and how I practice them. If I am really paying attention to my authentic voice that actually knows and practices out of love, I would have to reconsider the purchase and maybe not even make it. Love arises from taking a deep interest in the reality I create for myself, from the empathic attention I pay to the needs of others, and from my ability to actively forgive that which might otherwise feel like an insult coming toward me.

As I use money to purchase material goods to meet my needs, I am being informed more or less consciously by a part of my constitution formed during my infancy, one might say pre-consciously. By this statement, I mean that at birth we are fully dependent upon our mothers (or surrogates) for our nurturance and nutrition. The quality of feeling that was connected with that process on the parent’s part—the joy, the stress—are experienced as an associated part of the nurturance and thus become an integral part of our economic self. On one hand this could seem absurd, on the other it might help us to understand why money and how we use it, especially in the realm of purchase, is such a mystery to us, why we do not like to talk about it, and why it brings up all sorts of issues, particularly around the concept of what is enough. What need is really being met as we purchase to meet our needs (or, dare I say it, wants)? And, we purchase with such frequency, that we are hard put to have the time to pay consciousness to the process.

The practice of love, in the deepest sense of its meaning, is one way to bring healing through the consummation of purchase transactions.

The primary purpose of this inquiry is to connect qualities of soul to the qualities of financial transactions. I am asking myself, and the reader, to take a deeper look at our economic life, to recognize that how we are with our transactions inwardly is just as important as how we conduct them outwardly. It is a step toward integrating espoused and practiced values through our finances, a step toward reawakening the sacredness of our economic life. In the passage from the Four Quartets, what T.S. Eliot is urging the audience to do is to set aside all assumptions, cultural conditioning, and expectations—whether about the future (hope), present (love), or past (faith)—and for each of us to live into what our soul has to tell us. When the soul inquiry we carry is about money and financial transactions, our place in them and their place in us, we may very well be in the frontier of transformative exploration: “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” The practice of faith, hope and love in financial transactions will then also invite that kind of transformation in others—as they experience the expression of my inner values and are touched by their own.

John Bloom


At Monday, September 22, 2008 8:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wouldn't it be something if those in power wold look at economics in this human and conscious way. IT would not have been possible to embroil the world in the current economic crisis if Wall Street had loooked to the future with true hope rather than with only the phantom of more $$$ in th4eir minds.


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