/Ten Cultural Myths about Money
Ten Cultural Myths about Money2017-09-29T11:43:29+00:00

Financial success or failure is frequently associated with myths that many have accepted as true. Such myths, most of which have nothing to do with reality, were ingrained into our subconscious in early childhood. Some of these myths may be still buried in your subconscious, creating a complex web of dysfunctional behaviors, faulty concepts, justifications and delusions that may interfere with your ability to generate income.

Let’s examine some of these myths related to success, prosperity and money, and figure out how they may be affecting your life.

“Happiness for the Strong, Sorrow for the Weak.”

“Happiness for the strong, sorrow for the weak” is the title of a popular Russian folksong that states that only exceptional individuals can achieve success and happiness in life. The rest must accept their fate and give up trying to rise above their meager existence. This song provides a typically Russian solution to dealing with human sorrow: drinking oneself to oblivion.

Fortunately for us, the notion that happiness and prosperity are only for the exceptionally gifted and superior is not true. Just glancing through history books and looking around you, you can easily discover that the multitudes of creative geniuses with exceptional strength of character and with truly superhuman qualities died in poverty or perished in a thousand different ways. History books and local newspapers will also inform you that most of the rich, famous, powerful and successful of all times, including the present, were as ordinary and highly imperfect human beings as you and I. In fact, many of them were a lot more dysfunctional than us, as history has testified.

You have also observed that numerous quite ordinary individuals with no superhuman qualities have still achieved extraordinary financial success. So, you do not necessarily have to be special or superior in anything to be rich.

Only the Intelligent Can Achieve Prosperity

This statement is partially true. Indeed, many, but not all, financially successful people seem to exhibit above average intelligence. However, a lot of highly intelligent people are not especially successful financially, some live in poverty, and a few are homeless. You do not need above average intelligence to realize that intelligence by itself does not guarantee financial success.

Prosperity is Only for the Educated

According to statistics, the well educated earn a lot more than the rest, and many financially successful people are well educated. However, a lot of very educated individuals encounter financial difficulties as often than their uneducated brethren, and a few are destitute.

In fact, an individual’s academic achievement correlates with his or her talents and skills in abstract thinking, while financial success usually requires an adequate development in concrete and practical thinking, which will always include relationship skills. The absent-minded professor, one of the popular characters of our comic stories, illustrates that talents and skills in academia may not be transferable to one’s success in everyday life. Education or intelligence may even be a hindrance to financial success. Many highly educated and intelligent people prefer to dwell in the world of ideas, where they feel at home. Such individuals create a complex web of intellectualizations and justifications to avoid the pain of confronting their ineptitude at living in our quite concrete world and financially succeeding in it.

On the other hand, a few school dropouts, like Steve Jobs, become exceptionally rich. Therefore, we do not need above-average education to realize that education by itself does not determine financial success.

The Myth of Psychological Perfection

Some believe that financial success can only be achieved by well-adjusted individuals from fully functional families (if such a thing exists) who do not struggle with psychological issues like the rest of us. But what about countless examples of the super rich exhibiting all kinds of horrendous psychological problem. Indeed, you do not need to be psychologically perfect to achieve financial success. 

Prosperity Is Only for the Righteous

At the dawn of history, humankind developed various moral codes of behaviors designed to appease the gods and inspire the immortals to bestow upon their faithful devotees various blessings, which usually included prosperity. As religions rose and fell, those codes kept changing, frequently losing their religious significance when the culture became more secular. One thing remained the same. At any historical period, there was a great number of individuals who strictly followed the moral code of their time, and still lived a miserable life, while some of their contemporaries ignored most of the moral restrictions, but prospered nevertheless.

A prominent Jewish Sage, Rabbi Akiva, said, “Suffering of the righteous and prosperity of the wicked is one of God’s mysteries.”

It appears that following high moral principles is not enough to achieve prosperity.

Only the Wicked Prosper

Very few people believe in this myth anymore, and those who do, use it to justify their financial failures. I am not aware of any statistical research focused on the correlation between one’s moral development and one’s financial success. Nevertheless, it is obvious that in all social circles, there appears to be no such correlation at all. Therefore, lack of moral principles will not necessarily make you rich. 

“By the Sweat of Thy Brow”

“By the sweat of thy brow, you will eat your daily bread” is one of the oldest myths. When translated into modern language, it means that only by working very hard can you pay your bills. This myth is a vast generalization that does not apply in many cases. You can easily find numerous individuals working harder than you do, and still unable to make ends meet; as well as many who do nothing at all and still live in riches.

Hard work is not a guarantor of financial success.

Going the Extra Mile

My parents taught me that doing favors for people will inspire them to reciprocate such favors. Later on, I met many people like myself who would respond way beyond the call of duty by helping others. All these naive individuals, myself included, expected good treatment and favors in return. We were wrong, and here is why:

As a rule, animals do not reciprocate favors. Once fed or taken care of in any meaningful way, such biological beings are likely to come back for more, instead of doing something in return for you. Thus, if you feed a dog, it may come back to you when hungry. If you feed it repeatedly, this dog may get attached to you, but do not expect it to feed you in return. Yes, the dog will guard your house. In doing so, it will not reciprocate your favors, but follow its instincts instead.

At this stage of our social development, many human beings would respond to your favors in the manner of the dog described above: you feed them or take care of them, and they come back for more. This quality of human nature to always hope for a “free lunch” is used in department store sales, direct mail promotions, etc., that advertise free or very cheap products and services to lure customers to the store, but we all know that there are always hooks attached.

Naturally, you will find many people who would gladly reciprocate favors and who would go an extra mile for you. However, reciprocity is not yet an integral part of human behavior. In some cultures, it is an exception rather than the rule.

Unless you are surrounded by highly evolved people, going an extra mile or doing anything beyond the call of duty cannot guarantee your success.

Prosperity Pill

We all have encountered ardent believers in some kind of a system or a formula that could make us all rich. Once they realize—usually after years of trying and failing—that their system does not work, they start looking for another one.

Unfortunately, magical prosperity pill will ever be produced, and all the systems of prosperity presented by the most brilliant minds will not work for the vast majority of the population. Such methodologies of prosperity can only work for those who created them and for a few of their followers, but they are not appropriate for most of us. We all are different in our backgrounds, talents, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, personal preferences, etc. A methodology of prosperity that would fit us all will never be found.

Religion and Spirituality

The myth that living in poverty is a must for a spiritual and religious life does not correlate with reality. I did not find aversion to money or riches in the written biographies of the founders of the major world religions. According to the Bible, Abraham was a prosperous man, and Moses experienced no deprivation, except during his solo journey in the desert. Some of Jesus’ statements criticizing the rich are recorded in the Four Gospels. However, even the Apostles did not interpret such statements as instructions to be poor, since some of the original Christian churches became rich. The founder of Islam, Mohammed acquired wealth through marriage. The founder of Buddhism, Prince Siddharta lived an ascetic life. Yet, he accepted large donations to support his army of monks. Looking through history, I could not find a definite correlation between spirituality and financial success or failure. It appears that highly evolved souls simply do not care about money, as they are often indifferent to comfort, sex, entertainment and most of the things dear to you and me. They are indifferent, but not antagonistic. Therefore, poverty has no correlation with spirituality, and spirituality is not in conflict with wealth.