In 1987 Michael Douglas’ movie character, Gordon Gekko, famously popularized the phrase, “Greed is good,” in the movie Wall Street. In 2008 even the greedier among us were sickened over the collapse of the house that greed built as life’s imitation of art for two decades brought us to global economic meltdown.
Douglas reprised the Gekko character in 2012 in a new Wall Street II movie . . . and it seems the Hollywood character and our culture are slow-learners when it comes to greed.
But greed isn’t limited to Wall Street; it’s alive and well on Main Street … it thrives in my donkey shed … and in my Scotties … and in my own heart. There is more than a disturbing ‘piece’ of Gordon Gekko in each of us.
At my home, when I have natural, raw beef bone day for the dogs, each Scottie gets one. But MacGreed being what it is, it isn’t long before one or other dog has none and the other is jealously guarding two bones! It’s the ‘Gekko’ demon at work in a Scottie-fur coat.
When the Scotties and I go twice-daily to the corral to feed the donkeys and goats, no matter how crusty the old bread is I take to them, I must watch when I toss it around or the dogs will snatch it for themselves. Makes no difference that Scotties get premier treatment and prepared meals at the house. No matter. Bread or bowls in question are NOT theirs, they are for the animals, and that triggers the ‘Gekko’ in them!
And when I make it to the donkey shed, various feed bowls intact for donkeys and goats, I must stand vigil because the donkeys, after wolfing down their bowls’ contents, make a grab for the goats’ food unless I stop them. Never mind the donkeys are overfed–”You’re feeding too much … too rich!” says Oscar, the ferrier; never mind they are entirely too well-treated and pampered at Las Golondrinas so they want for nothing and their only jeopardy is too much of a good thing! Never mind, they’re greedy for more.
Meanwhile, the pygmy goats push and shove one another over the other’s bowl. Despite the fact that I put the same feed and the same quantity in each of their bowls, what the other kid’s got always looks better! ‘Gekko,’ you see, is alive and well up and down the food chain.
We all think “greed is good” … at least, that’s how we behave. It wasn’t just Wall Street bankers greedy beyond reason and ethics in the collapse of the real estate bubble, it was also home buyers buying houses beyond their incomes … and beyond their promises to pay. Gordon Gekko is alive in us all in various ways. When I fault Wall Street or Main Street, or donkeys or Scotties or my goats harshly I have to remember I’m a hoarder, too. My supply of pens and shoes and vests and hats, etc., etc.–which despite overstuffed closets are never adequate to forestall buying the newest and greatest “improved” versions — are proof!
Greed may be everywhere but greed isn’t good: not on Wall Street or Main Street, not at my corral or in my life. Greed translates to hunger and shortage somewhere for someone. Worse still, greed isn’t satisfying to the greedy. ‘Enough’ is never enoughable in our lives … we’re never satisfied, forever restless and empty, always chasing another treat to grab, another’s bowl to take over, greener grass beyond. We’re so fixated on a bigger and ‘better’ bowl we don’t notice we’re despising the bowl we have.
My solution this Christmas for my own greed is simple: to focus on appreciating what I’ve got, and turn OFF the ’sirens’ of greed calling me to chase what I’m lacking. So, when I’m at Staples Office Supply or Best Buy and I hear my Sirens calling me to the perfect and newest electronic tablet, calling me to lust after the gizmo-gadget-instrument to end all creative writing aids, I’m going to talk to myself about my greedy Scotties, greedy donkeys, greedy goats, as well as the greed I dislike in myself, and focus instead on what is satisfying to me about writing. It’s not the tool; it’s creating timely, lucid, insightful prose that carries me and the reader to inspiration and discovery of ideas worth remembering. Great ideas worth remembering were written in ancient times with a crude feather quill. Why should my creativity hang on finding the latest high-tech roller ball or Droid or IPad? No. I’ve got writing instruments in abundance, the most archaic of which is the envy of ancient scribes. I don’t need a better tablet. What I need is more joyful appreciation over the abundant ‘bowl’ of my life–and in my gratitude, to get busy writing out of authentic thankfulness.
This Christmas my new self-talk won’t change Wall Street or Main Street or even the donkey shed or my Scotties, but the implications of this strategy may lead me to a new peace over my own barnyard, lovable warts, foibles, and homespun ‘Gordon Gekko’ flaws and all! That won’t be the end of greed … but maybe it will be the beginning of wisdom.
Joseph Harvill, publisher of Great Scots Magazine