This is the third part of our series on a psychology of greed, and how stealing can become a habit, even among “nice” people.
In Part One, we talked about financial deceit and how it appears almost commonplace among some of the biggest players in the world of money. Sadly, a cursory look at the news makes you wonder about the big banks, financial firms and even sovereign countries.
In the word of divorce, greed can infect the redistribution of assets, with lawyers often benefiting more than their clients. In The Intelligent Divorce: Taking Care of Yourself (2011), we explore this in depth.
In, Part Two, we looked closely at the secret life of greed; and how such a life can be adaptive — or dangerous. The desire for more money can literally split a person into two parts; one being law abiding and ethical, and the other, secretly exploitative.
Here, in Part Three, we will look at ways to deal with public graft, while in coming pieces we'll look more closely at divorce and financial hanky panky.
Money and the Public Good:
We need our markets to work. We need to have bankers and financiers who can be free to do their jobs, and yet we also need to know that the playing field is being managed well for everyone’s sake.
Simply put, money motivates and money corrupts. And corruption hurts us all.
Integrity is not What You Think:
When you think of integrity, you think of good people; and yet for some, powerful drives can trigger secret life. Such double lives have two settings: good fathers (or mothers) who give to the church but in their secret life they are much less than their idealized image. Many a good man in his secret life, can have an addiction, whether it’s money, sex, gambling or drugs.
Example: Consider the former presidential candidate, John Edwards. In his pubic life, he loved his wife and children; and was fiercely committed to the United States of America, his Democratic Party and the poor. But in his secret life, he allegedly had an ongoing affair and a child with his lover. Mr. Edwards put everyone at risk by accepting the Vice Presidential nomination in 2004.
This was a dangerous secret life, because Edwards bet on keeping both lives separate from one another. This lack of integration is not uncommon. And, it can be hazardous.
The secret life works if there is a boundary between the public self and the secret self. Once that boundary breaks down, a person has to face the public with his deviousness and all the attending shame. Sadly, for some, this coming to Jesus moment can make a person feel worthless like “I’d rather not be alive then have to face the people I let down.”
That is why some, when exposed, may consider suicide.
Integrity is not what you think—we like to believe that we are dealing with a “great guy” through and through. Just remember, we are not built to be consistent like robots. With people, you never know what might be lurking under the water’s surface.
Blanket trust is a silly concept. It is not wise to simply place our trust in bankers, politicians, leaders, ex husbands and wives, or even priests and rabbis. Everybody has their needs, and some live them secretly.
Yes, you can believe in the goodness of human nature. But trust with a sober heart and sharp eyes.
When Public Life meets the Secret Life:
When Public Life meets the Secret Life:
Today’s headlines tell the story. And, while there are many great people running our banks and financial institutions, there's enough graft and conning to sour the market for everyone. We are learning that money is too alluring for too many people in the public trust. This shouldn’t be a big surprise.
So, what is the message here?
Let’s not be angry with bankers or financial professionals. Many went into the business because they enjoy making money and lots of it. Greed is a normal drive. So, asking these bankers to play by the rules when their appetite for more money can be satisfied by a little graft, is asking a lot.
Consider a parallel example from our field of psychology. Fifty years ago, it was not so uncommon for a therapist to have an affair with a patient. This is because the erotic transference can be so powerful in the therapy setting. Such luminaries as Carl Jung and Eric Fromm (who married his analyst) both broke these boundaries. It was terribly wrong.
Since this was such an obvious abuse of trust, the profession essentially outlawed such behavior and offered training to help therapists deal with this difficult problem. The erotic transference didn’t go away, but therapists now have a better ability to manage it successfully.
Sexual energy is not leaving the therapy office and greed will always be on the banker’s shoulder. Opportunities to cheat are not going away. But, our financial professionals can be better trained to know what’s coming and how to handle it, both ethically and psychologically.
If a banker or financial advisor cons himself and then cons us, the punishment should be sky high.
A good sting carries useful memory.
There is Work to be Done:
Let’s stop being children and just believe what we are told. And, let’s stop being adolescents, outraged by the unethical CEOs and fund managers. They are people just like us, perhaps with a more powerful drive for money; which is probably why they got into in the business in the first place.
Let’s just accept the vagarities of greed as a powerful (and often useful) part of human nature.
Temptation will never go away. And, the greed that underlies that temptation is part of the dynamic that makes a good capital market work for all of us. Temptation also invites the secret life.
“Father, forgive them, for they do know not what they are doing.”—Jesus
We cannot give these brilliant and capable people room to be so self-serving. Many have — and will — break our trust. So, I strongly support serious psychologically sound ethics training as well as criminal prosecutions for misbehavior (deterrence has a value).
Our financial professionals must understand that their own minds can deceive them. They need to be trained to see the slip into the secret life, before the deed is done. Like sex, greed is a perfectly fine drive. But it cannot be in charge.
Our money experts can be children in adult bodies, just like the rest of us.
And, a good playground needs its monitors.