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Your Money or Your Life

There is a great book by this title written by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez that I read years ago. The purpose of the book is to help readers transform their relationship with money by looking at how they spend their time. It guides readers through a process of looking at money in relation to their entire life, and the satisfaction they receive from connections with friends and family, community and the planet. This seems especially relevant right now as we are giving up many of our personal connections and routines for the common good. Our connections with friends and family are shifting for the benefit of our communities and, in a larger sense, the planet and all of its inhabitants as well.

We are all being asked to balance risk and reward in some way, and some of us have no choice. Those considered essential workers are putting their own health on the line every day to insure the rest of us have what we need. Some of them have said this makes them feel “expendable.” Others would love to be working if they could, and many of us are likely weighing some form of financial versus safety equation right now. The #NotDyingForWallStreet hashtag trended when the president suggested the country might be reopened for business by Easter. Even though that deadline got extended, we are in the midst of another struggle between the economy and the lives of countless people that raises many questions about how to get back to work and society safely.

On the other hand, there are countless medical professionals (like this guy) questioning the total shutdown of society for something that has killed fewer people than the annual flu epidemic – arguably because of the shutdown – but it’s really hard to know who and what to believe right now. This is new and we really don’t know. Did we underreact or overreact? We may never really know. Either way, I see this as an opportunity for us to see the major flaws in our systems and correct them. I see it as an opportunity for us to question the inequities in our society and flatten that curve.

I see this as an opportunity to begin to question the very nature of our consumer-driven system. To provide only one in a sea of examples, there are a lot of memes and jokes right now about how we will soon know everyone’s “real” hair color (myself included), and we have a system in which if every woman woke up tomorrow and was happy with the way she looked our economy would collapse. At a very basic level, advertising photoshops and airbrushes women’s bodies in such a way that we can be easily manipulated into feeling ours is lacking from multiple angles – and we already KNOW they do this – and yet we fall for it anyway.

From the expensive end of surgery, to diets and exercise programs (which arguably have benefits beyond appearance) to, on the lower end, teeth whitening, cosmetics and hair coloring, with fashion and other appearance or ego enhancers falling somewhere in the middle, we buy a ton of stuff that serves no purpose other than to make us look better. It can even be argued that much of it doesn’t work, but we still buy it in the hopes that the miracle face cream will actually make us look younger and reduce the effects of fine lines. When you put these kinds of habits under a microscope they are pretty messed up.

Right now when everything is stripped down to the basics perhaps many of us are seeing that the emperor has no clothes. Perhaps we can begin to recognize the folly in chasing things when life is confined to our immediate environments and the important people in it. Hopefully we appreciate the connections we have forged with neighbors, the pause in our addiction to busy (even though some are busier than ever in a more difficult setting), and the simple pleasures that can be found in cooking and going outside. Although we might also wish for or be grateful for the comforts of our homes right now.

This has been interesting to me as a cancer survivor because I have been weighing these kinds of decisions around money and health for some time now. Unfortunately, our current health care system forces many of us to make choices about our health based on what we can afford. Do I go to the emergency room about this pain in the middle of the night or wait it out until my doctor’s office opens? Can I afford the prescription or supplements or organic food that might help? Do I do the scan my doctor ordered and will my insurance cover it? I have spent tens of thousands of dollars since being diagnosed with cancer nearly 14 years ago that I would have much rather spent on something else.

Even more pressing and heartbreaking questions are being asked right now by people who are experiencing possible symptoms of Covid-19. Many feel as if they are being forced to choose between their family’s financial well-being and the greater good. That is a tough choice. As a society we can’t ignore the implications for those who feel they are being forced to work in unsafe conditions (like these meat-packing plants in my state and others) and those who, even in normal times, make the decision to go to work sick because they don’t have paid sick leave. There aren’t even that many new problems in this regard right now, it’s just that this crisis has put them into stark relief.

As we all learn to navigate the unknowns of this novel coronavirus, I am hopeful that the problems we have all seen in the current system are enough to force changes beyond this crisis. I have been encouraged by the sense of community that has been generated by this world-wide pandemic that for the most part has encouraged a “we’re all in this together” kind of mentality around the globe. Unlike the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which killed 50-million people, this time we have technology to enable many of us to still school and work from home and stay connected to loved ones even at a distance. We are also, for the most part, not living in the kind of close quarters (at least in this country) that allowed the previous illness to spread like wildfire throughout many tenements and rooming houses of an earlier era.

Still, the needs of the people must be met if social distancing is to be successful. The Care Act has fallen short in many respects and it is taking too long to meet the needs of the ordinary people who need it the most. I hope it won’t be too little too late, making people feel as if they followed the rules and got no support. If we abandon social distancing too soon, or without a properly developed plan for re-opening society, then the sacrifices we have all made to date could be for naught.

No one should have to choose between their money and their life.

The evolution of our consciousness has reached a point where this type of forced choice is no longer morally acceptable. Money should never have to come before health, well-being and connection. It should be in service to those things and whatever else is important to us, not something that keeps us from living our fullest, most connected, loving, powerful and fulfilling lives.

This moment contains the opportunity for us to acknowledge and claim what is really important in life. Is it community, health, happiness, connection, cooperation, freedom and love or is it profit, share-price, growth for growth’s sake, division, competition, righteousness and selfishness? It is only what we choose to prioritize as a society that will determine that, and I personally feel we have been prioritizing the wrong things for a very, very long time. I am hopeful that this pandemic will be a turning point for all of us to truly recognize and embrace what we value most.

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