Another insightful prompt from the folks at WordPress. I wouldn’t respond to this one, except it ties into a lot of what I’ve been keeping on the ponder burner all week about my characters. In writing, characters motivations are what make them believable. There’s more to it than that, of course, but if readers can’t understand what a character does or even predict what their next move might be from knowing that character, they won’t read till the end of the book. They’ll get frustrated.(You can read more about my novel writing process/progress here.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about motivations this week. For good or ill, motivation is what drives people. It’s what plunked me down in front of my trusty constipated dinosaur of a computer to write today. It’s what drags our butts off the couch to the gym (or in my case, the living room where my weights live). It’s what makes people mug someone on their way home or donate to charity.
What is the most destructive force of humanity? I would say it’s one of humanity’s largest and most powerful motivators: greed. I’m not talking about Scrooge McDuck polishing his piles of gold coins before diving into them in a sparkling splash. Such a cartoonish vision doesn’t do it justice.
To me, greed is the sense of wanting more than someone else has regardless of who it hurts. The qualifier I tacked on the end there isn’t actually separate from the desire to have more, because ultimately the desire for more will hurt someone. It’s why employee benefits are often the first things slashed when a budget gets cut. Not salaries at the top of the chain. It’s why people resort to stealing. It’s why people fight over resources. Not because they think it will make them have enough. It’s because they want more.
If there’s anything I’ve learned on this earth, it’s that people very seldom think they have enough. I’ve heard people complain that they don’t have enough money when they make over six figures every year. If you were to follow them home, you’d see a Lexus in their driveway, which is attached to a million dollar home. Very few could successfully make the argument that they don’t have enough. I think that someone living in a one room shanty in Peru might have a better grasp on what “enough” means than most of America.
Every day I’m thankful for my toilet. That might be a very strange thing to be thankful for, but I grew up without one for many, many years. We had a five gallon bucket with an old toilet seat attached to it that we kept in our kitchen. Yes. You read that right. Kitchen. It was my job as a young teen to empty this bucket into our outhouse, which I dug myself. As a Caucasian American, I understand that I am in the very distinct minority for having had this experience as youngster.
Having grown up with a lot less than most people in this country, I am always very baffled (and I’ll admit, less than sympathetic) when people who have a safe, comfortable home with their own bedroom, a car, food every day (more than once a day), and a pot to piss in that flushes think they don’t have enough. What greed stems from is a lack of perspective.
Recession or not, we live in a golden age. We are utterly dependent on technology for everything from heating our homes to doing our banking to finding knowledge. I always wonder what would happen if we lost that. I see what happens when the power goes out for a matter of days. We have no idea how fortunate we are.
Greed poisons us. I’m guilty of it as much as anyone. I want to provide for my family and give them things I didn’t have — though from my perspective, I don’t have to do much to exceed what I had as a child. In spite of that, I want to raise my children to know that for every one of us who has water, food, shelter, family — there are millions who have to fight every day to have a fraction of what I have.
A sobering fact that I think of often is that if the wealthy of the world really wanted to, they could probably wipe out world hunger. If we weren’t so concerned with financial profit, we could invest in people who have so much less. It wouldn’t be a quick turnaround, but the world would be a better place.
Just to clarify, I don’t think greed exists only on Wall Street or in the upper classes. It exists everywhere, like a noxious weed. People kill each other for clean water when they could probably find a way to share it. At it’s heart, greed is taking for yourself what you could share with others. Everyone might have a little less, but everyone would have something. As children, we’re taught that if we have two of something we should share. We’re taught that sharing is caring. That it’s the nice thing to do. The right thing to do. I feel like we all cling to our resentment of sharing until we’re adults and we can buck that dictate from our parents and finally say no, what’s mine is mine.
Greed is the most destructive element of humanity, because it cannot exist innocently. It always hurts someone. On a wide scale it destroys nations. On a small scale it hurts someone’s feelings. In The Kite Runner, the protagonist’s father remarks that all sin is theft. You take something that doesn’t belong to you, or you lie and steal someone’s right to the truth. You murder and steal their life.
I’ll close with a quote from Shusako Endo (paraphrased). “Sin is to talk brutally over the life of another and be oblivious of the wounds left behind.”