The Bible tells us the love of money is the root of all evil (see 1 Timothy 6:10). While I believe there are other causes of evil (such as power and bigotry), folk-philosopher, Will Rogers, described the money problem this way: “Too many people spend money they earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people that they don’t like.” Admittedly, everyone needs a certain amount of money to survive and be happy. We can’t really enjoy life if we spend most of our waking hours worrying about our next meal or where we will sleep that night. The documentary, Happy,[i] reports that studies show you need a base annual income of about $70,000 to be happy; income above that level, though, does not really contribute to our happiness. “Money is only a tool,” author Ayn Rand said. “It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” In short, once we have enough money to get by, our happiness depends more on our attitude about money than the money itself.
This point was driven home to me by two movies I watched over the holidays. Same Kind of Different as Me[ii] is the true story of Ron and Deborah Hall and their efforts to help others who are down on their luck. Ron is a very successful art dealer, but his marriage was struggling. Ron had cheated on Deborah. Instead of throwing him out, Deborah said, “This is all I’m asking from you. If you never do that again, I’ll never bring this up again and you are welcome to come home.” Ron replied, “If you will do that, I will do anything that you ask me the rest of our lives together, to show you that I love you.” What did Deborah ask Ron to do? Based on a dream she had, she asked Ron to go with her to the inner city to find a homeless man she saw in a dream. Here is Ron’s introduction into the inner city and the world of the homeless:
Through helping the homeless, and one mysterious man in particular, Ron saved his marriage and developed a friendship with Denver Moore that surpassed all racial barriers and economic classes. Together they ultimately wrote a book about their experiences and friendship, which became a platinum bestseller. It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for over three and a half years, and became the basis for the movie. Denver and Ron split the profits from the book. Denver used his half to help others in the homeless community. Ron donated his half to the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth. This compelling story has now raised over $80 million for the less fortunate. In looking back at his experiences, Denver summed up life with this insight: “Whether we’re rich or poor, or somewhere in between, we’re all homeless, just working our way back home.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum is All the Money in the World,[iii] the fact-based movie about the kidnapping of the 16-year-old grandson of J. Paul Getty and the grandson’s mother’s desperate attempt to get the boy’s grandfather to pay the kidnappers’ ransom demands. At the time (1973), J. Paul Getty was the richest man in the world, having a net worth of over $2 billion, which would be about $8 billion in today’s dollars. If Getty earned 10 percent per year in interest on his net worth at the time of the kidnapping, his earnings would be over a half a million dollars A DAY! But as an unsurpassed miser, the kidnapping of his favorite grandson was not enough reason for Getty to part with any of his money. Here is my favorite scene from the movie because of how disgusting it is:
I am not necessarily saying that J. Paul Getty was evil, but who do you think was happier – Ron Hall or J. Paul Getty? Both men had more money than they could spend in a life time, but their attitudes about money, including what to do with it, were completely opposite. And you can only buy so much stuff and still get any satisfaction out of it. I love this quote from the comedian Steve Martin: “I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater. And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too.”
Ironically, All the Money in the World has been in the news recently for a different reason. Because of sexual misconduct claims against Kevin Spacey, who originally was cast as J. Paul Getty, the director, Ridley Scott, decided to re-shoot the movie with Christopher Plummer playing J. Paul Getty. Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams, the other two principals in the movie, agreed to the re-shoots. Wahlberg reportedly was paid $1.5 million for his efforts, but Williams was paid only the minimum per diem, which totaled less than $1,000. More ironically, both actors are represented by the same agency. As soon as I heard that, I thought of my favorite scene from Jerry Maguire,[iv] another great movie dealing with money and integrity. Here’s the scene:
Can you picture Mark Wahlberg hip-hopping around his kitchen, yelling at his agent, “Show me the money?” I enjoy most Mark Wahlberg movies and I believe actors, like everyone, should get paid for their hard work. But in August, Forbes named Wahlberg the highest-paid actor of the year, calculating his pretax and pre-fee earnings at $68 million. On the other hand, we have Michelle Williams saying, “I said I’d be wherever they needed me, whenever they needed me. And they could have my salary, they could have my holiday, whatever they wanted. Because I appreciated so much that they were making this massive effort.” Gender-pay disparity issues aside, which actor appears to have valued making an important movie over being paid to make it, and which actor valued the money over the finished product?
A good friend of mine has taught me a lot about values. Values are not destinations, but they can provide direction and motivation. We tend to let others (our parents, our employers our churches) tell us what we value. But our true values are evidenced by those things we do when we don’t have to do anything else. In other words, where we spend our free time is what we value most. How much do we value money? Is acquiring money our end or is it a means to help us enjoy what we truly value? Remember that the real measure of our wealth is how much we would be worth to ourselves and others if we lost all our money. In short, money is a commodity that is constantly changing hands – and changing people.
In the final analysis, I believe we will be the happiest when we have figured out how to make enough money to satisfy our needs, and to enjoy a few of our wants, but use any excess wealth to help others do the same. As Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” While money is a necessary evil, let’s not let the love of it be the root of any evil in us.
Postscript: After writing this post and before its publication, Mark Wahlberg announced he will donate $1.5 million in Michelle Williams’ name to the #TimesUp legal fund. WME, his agency (and Michelle’s), also pledged $500,000 to the cause. A friend of mine and I had predicted this would happen. I am sure the imminent release of this post was pivotal in Wahlberg’s and WME’s decision (lol)! Anyway, good for them, although late. It’s nice to see that social pressure can sometimes cause people to do the right thing.
- Production Company:
- Director: Roko Belic
- Starring: Marci Shimoff, Gregory Berns, Richard Davidson, Ed Diener
- Release date: 2011
[ii] Same Kind of Different as Me
- Production Company: Disruption Entertainment, Skodam Films, One October Films
- Director: Michael Carney
- Screenwriters: Michael Carney and Alexander Foard
- Starring: Renee Zellweger, Greg Kinnear and Djimon Hounsou,
- Release date: October 22, 2017
[iii] All the Money in the World
- Production Company: Imperative Entertainment, RedRum Films, and Scott Free Productions
- Director: Ridley Scott
- Screenwriters: David Scarpa (based on the book by John Pearson)
- Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer and Mark Wahlberg
- Release date: December 25, 2017
[iv] Jerry Maguire
- Production Company: TriStar Pictures, Gracie Films
- Director: Cameron Crowe
- Screenwriters: Cameron Crowe
- Starring: Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Renee Zellweger
- Release date: December 13, 1996