Defining Money

[Author’s note—When I started teaching English composition courses for Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, IN, the challenge of teaching students the concept of “essay” generated the following text. An essay can be an attempt to write from one’s own perspective, opinion, and expression; etymologically, essay means “to try.” Academic writing compels students to use research, but many first-year students are inundated with the concept of writing reports, without possessing the ability to write from one’s own stance and experience. In fact, I’ve found that many students have this ability extirpated from them in high school. An objective of the course is to assist students with plumbing their critical thinking abilities and seizing authority of their own ideas and opinions. Early class attempts at assigning a definition essay did not bear fruit. I kept telling students to choose a conceptual word or phrase and write about it. As a writer, it became clear that showing students how to write is better than telling them how to do it. At the time, I was living in a trailer home in Gary, IN; I was recently divorced; and I was living on a graduate assistant’s salary. I was poor, and I wrote the following as my own example of a definition essay for students. I read it out loud to my class. It was effective, as students started writing wonderful essays about words like love, war, politics, family, education, gender, beauty, friendship, and more. I ended up using this essay for the remainder of my teaching career. After re-reading it, I can safely affirm that I still bear this opinion, so I choose to share it in my blog. If you’re a teacher of writing (or economics), feel free to use this essay for academic class purposes; please attribute it appropriately.—Scott C. Guffey]

I have a problem defining the word “money.” The simplest definition would be the cash and change that we carry in our wallets and purses, but it seems like most people do not even carry cash anymore, just plastic. Our money is not physical anymore; it is just an ephemeral number that exists on a computer screen. With the direct deposits that funnel my salary into an account, which then gets vacuumed out by all of the on-line billing services, I do not think that I really get to see any of the money that I make. If I ever get to carry some cash, I will spend it on necessities, like gas or food, and honestly, that should be enough. I do want more, though. I want more money to purchase things that I really do not need, but instead want. It seems to me that the message this world, this country, delivers is that it is perfectly acceptable to want more for yourself, even moreso than the things that might actually be necessities. Money is the key, though.

So what is it, this strange entity known as money? It is obviously fairly important because people around me seem to want it more than anything. People will sell their bodies for it, or they will sell out their neighbors for it, or they might sell their souls for it. It happens daily. I see people with money take great pleasure in flaunting it. I cannot tell you the amount of homes I have toured in which I am required to “ooh” and “aah” over precious knick-knacks that mean nothing to me. Men and women I know have admitted to seeking out rich significant others in the hope that their money will make up for a lack of beauty or personality. Spending $40 for a cheeseburger, $300 for a pair of shoes, or $1,000 for a purse with a certain name brand printed on it: once these things might have seemed outrageous, but not on today’s planet…not in modern America.

The message I receive from this country—a country which I was raised to love, this country that I still love despite what it has become—is money is the most important thing in our lives. It is more important than our families, more important than our friends, our spouses, or even our children. It is more important than our selves, as evidenced by the physical, mental, and spiritual abuse we are paid in pursuit of money. Money is our ultimate measure of an individual’s worth. In a country that has deemphasized spirituality (as evidenced by “the war on religion” current politicians and journalists proclaim), money has become what we most believe in, what we MUST believe in. Even those who sell spirituality to those who still crave it will only do so for a price.

Money is to be loved. Money is to be worshipped. We sacrifice those we love for it, and we kill for it. Money is what we are compelled to believe in. Thus, money is the modern god.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}


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