Friday, September 19, 2008

Are We Becoming a Self-Focused and Greedy Society?

As I recently have observed and reflected on some macro issues in our society (e.g., Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill Lynch, the leveraging activities of investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Lehman and the large salaries and huge bonuses of their executives) as well as some micro issues (e.g., how modern life has become dominated by self-focused people whose primary if no sole objective is increase and maintain their individual wealth and well-bring), I concluded that we by and large are becoming a greedy and self-focused society.

The lifestyles of many people I know and see saddens me because it does not foster a compassionate, community-building environment. On the other hand, it is nice to feel a real connection with people that is not based on material wealth and status (consumer-driven). Maybe I’m just getting tired of the growing me, me, me generation.

Self-focused attention, thought of a self-absorption, has been linked to a variety of affective states and clinical syndromes, including depression, panic disorder, social anxiety, schizophrenia, and alcoholism. Some research, for example, has reported that self-focused attention is a correlate of depression but not emotional difficulty in general. Further, both depression and private self-consciousness tend to be independently associated with a negative evaluation of the self. Self-focused attention also has been found to be correlated with negative mood in individuals experiencing at least some symptoms of depression but not in non-depressed persons. Lastly, self-focused attention and stressful life events are independently associated with depression. And, in my view, this tends to make sense:
If people are seeing their income, earning power and assets dwindling and the costs of gas and other necessities and commodities rising, among other things,
Then it makes sense for people to experience depression and be focused on themselves.

Greed denotes desire to acquire wealth or possessions beyond the needs of the individual, especially when this accumulation of possession denies others legitimate needs or access to those or other resources. For example, amassing a large collection of seashells would not be considered greed, unless in doing so, the needs of others were jeopardized. Essential to the concept of greed is the awareness that the needs of others are denied; thus, the insatiable acquisition of frivolous goods exemplifies greed while non-frivolous goods may not. Greed also often involves using wealth to gain power over others, sometimes by denying wealth or power.

Regarding greed, I love the following considerations:

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”
Mahatma Gandhi

“To make a business decision, you don’t need much philosophy; all you need is greed, and maybe a little knowledge of how the game works.”
Bill Watterson
(American Author of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes)

“Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”
Erich Fromm

Question: What’s been your experience – do you think we are becoming a greedy and self-focused society?



Unknown said...

On a personal level when dealing with individuals I don't notice greed as much. Most people I come into contact with are thoughtful and helpful.
But when I read the newspaper or watch a current affairs program on TV then I do see lots of examples of greed, often linked with complaining.
Living in Australia most people are quite well taken care of. i.e have food in their bellies and a roof over their head, free education and free healthcare. Now I believe people should want to better things and improve their own lives. But at some point hopefully we reach a place in our life when we can say. "Life is pretty good. I am enjoying what I have. Maybe it is time to help other enjoy what I have?"
That is where I am at. I'm very happy with what I have. What I need to work on is playing a part in improving/helping/sharing with the community. What is the best way to share abundance?
I think we need a day to celebrate life is pretty good day ;) Maybe more then a day.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Martin,

Thank you for offering your observations and experience with these issues. Importantly, it sounds like you have realistic expectation of life and in effect define “happiness” as wanting what you have instead of having what you want. I have seen a growing number of people in the United States as living life as if it were a game “and the one with the most toys at the end wins the game.” And when we help another person, it’s a win-win – the other person benefits and the one helping benefits (assuming that helping others is important to the one doing the helping).

“Sharing abundance” – a beautiful concept, one I’d enjoy seeing more of in the United States.

Thanks again – you’re the kind of person I’d love to have as a neighbor.


walkershay said...

Yes. Our community has become more self-focused. Alas, all communities that become affluent seem to do that. Many have "fallen". I look at history and know this is true. Many people do care, and I acknowledge the previous posters position. But due to technological advances I fear we are going to become more isolated. I as a 54 year old woman realize the importance of interacting in/with my community. But the younger generation can work, shop, and go to school without leaving their living room. People do not realize the power of advertising/media...telling us we NEED this, we NEED that, and toys are the mechanism to eventual salvation. In my life, I have ditched all I am a poor student @54 years of age...and still I wonder...IF I HAVE MADE IT. So, Dr Bill yes we are more self-focused and greedy, our youth do not have to leave their living rooms...they can get info, shop, work, or go to school and do not have to get out of their P. J.'s. Once again, alas, the new technology offers many benefits, but one of the drawbacks is ISOLATION which invariably leads to self absorption!!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Welcome Walkershay…

and thank you for sharing your insights and experiences.

Being part of a generation slightly ahead of you, I also have experienced a time when, for example, after receiving a gift one would handwrite a Thank-You note on personalized stationary and genuinely express ones gratitude. It might arrive 5-6 days hence, but it was meaningful to the gift-giver. Today, in our high-speed, technological world, a one-line e-mail or text message, with abbreviated improper English, is immediately sent via an iPhone or iPod. Sorry… not the same.

I like the way you incorporate technology in support of my thesis that we are becoming more and more greedy and self-focused. It truly is amazing – people also seem to be losing their social skills – interpersonally speaking. If our primary means of communication are via the Internet, text messaging and cell phones, genuinely interacting with people – face-to-face – can be a challenge (and thus, “stay home… stay isolated”).

Indeed very interesting and thought-provoking ideas – thanks for challenging me to think further about my considerations regarding greed and self-focusing.

Hoping you’ll return later down the road,


Anonymous said...

Of course it is. I believe it is called "the degradation of society" and each of us can only combat it by ascribing to a code of personal honor and conduct that calls for treating others the way we would want to be treated. It seems that a return to this traditional Golden Rule instead of he with the gold makes the rules would go a long way to righting the ship!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Anonymous,

Well said, "The degradation of society." And like you, I am very concerned about the ship's heading.

Now how do we get people to subscribe to a more compassionate and caring code of personal honor and conduct that calls for treating others the way they would want to be treated? There's a challenge!

And I love your wording: "... return to this traditional Golden Rule instead of he with the gold makes the rules."

Thanks for the Comment(s) -- hope you stop by again,