On May 18, 1986, American financier Ivan F. Boesky delivered a commencement address at the School of Business Administration of the University of California in Berkeley, and said these words: “Greed is all right, by the way. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.”
This statement was later picked up in Oliver Stone’s award-winning film, Wall Street (1987), spoken by Gordon Gecko. “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” said Michael Douglas, who portrayed the role and received an Oscar trophy for his performance. “Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”
During the tough economic times for both rich and poor nations, this kind of thinking will definitely destroy the world, according to the traditional papal Christmas Day message “Urbi et Orbi” – Latin for “to the City and to the World.”
Speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on the day Christians commemorate Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Wherever the selfishness of individuals and groups prevails over the common good … may the light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity.” He warned, “If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart.”
The rich people become more richer, while the poor individuals become more poorer. “What is mine is mine, what is yours is mine, too.” That seems to be the mantra of most of the people. But that should not be the purpose of life. Jay Leno reminds, “If you think of life as like a big pie, you can try to hold the whole pie and kill yourself trying to keep it, or you can slice it up and give some to the people around you, and you still have plenty left for yourself.”
A teacher and the school principal were standing near the playground where the children were frolicking to their heart’s content. The teacher asked the latter, “Why is it that everyone wants to be happy, but so few ever are?”
The principal looked at the playground and replied, “Those children seem to be really happy.” The teacher answered back, “Why shouldn’t they be? All they do is play. But what keeps the adults from being happy like that?”
“The same thing that can keep children from being happy,” the principal said. Then, without saying any word, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a handful of coins, and threw them among the playing children.
Suddenly, all laughter stopped. The children tumbled over one another, fought and argued. The principal told the teacher, “Well, what do you think ended their happiness?”
“The fighting,” the teacher answered. “And what started their fighting?” the principal inquired. “Greed,” the teacher replied.
God created this world for everyone to enjoy. “In this world there’s room for everyone, and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone,” said Charlie Chaplin in the movie, The Great Dictator. “The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goosestepped us into misery and bloodshed.”
Mahatma Gandhi echoes the same concern: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” As Seneca pointed out, “To greed, all nature is insufficient.”
Why is this so? “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction,” American psychologist Erich Fromm explained.
Janwillem van de Wetering commented, “Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough.” This reminds me of the story of Jonathan, the only son of an affluent family. When his father died, he inherited all what his parents had and became the heir of the land. But he wasn’t contented; he wanted more land.
Once, a stranger came by, apparently a man of means and power, and offered to give him all the land he could walk around in one day, on condition that he would be back at the spot from which he started by sundown.
Early the next morning, the boy set out, without eating any breakfast or greeting anyone. His first plan was to cover six square kilometers. When he finished the first six, he decided to make it nine, then twelve, then fifteen. That meant he would have to walk 60 kilometers before sundown. By noon, he had covered 30 kilometers. He did not stop for food or drink. His legs grew heavier and heavier.
About 200 yards from the finish line, Jonathan saw the sun dropping toward the horizon. Only a few minutes left. He gathered all his energies for that one last effort. He staggered across the line, just in time. Then, he reached for his heart and fell down in a heap – dead. All the land he got was a piece six feet by two.
“From top to bottom of the ladder, greed is aroused without knowing where to find ultimate foothold. Nothing can calm it, since its goal is far beyond all it can attain. Reality seems valueless by comparison with the dreams of fevered imaginations; reality is therefore abandoned,” French sociologist Emile Durkheim reminded.
“The point,” to quote the words of American businessman Donald Trump, “is that you can’t be too greedy.”
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