Many people have defined and redefined “myth” over time. Bruce Lincoln defines myth as “ideology in narrative form”. Joseph Campbell, the eminent scholar and mythologist, defined “myth” as “clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life.” Alan Dundes, Euhemerus, Plato’s Phaedrus, Sallustius, E. B. Tylor, Max Müller, James Frazer… The list goes on, when it comes to smart folks defining “myth”.
I tend to think of myths as stories about reality that we invent to add meaning and structure to our lives and make sense of forces beyond our control.
In some cases, myths can be helpful — like tales of semi-deities rewarding (or punishing) us at holiday times, the hero’s journey, or fairy tales that illustrate the difference between good and evil and reassure us on a deep subconscious level that good people sometimes do overcome evil conditions through hard work and dumb luck.
But in other cases, our mythology can get us in trouble, by supplying us with bogus explanations for Why Things Are The Way They Are. Those bogus explanations can seem perfectly plausible to us — we don’t question them and agree to go along with them, regardless of logic or personal experience. I call these “mindless myths” because we just don’t give them that much thought — we accept them as gospel for some reason or another, and our blind trust leads us down paths far more difficult than they have to be.
All of us do it — we fall for the mindless myths. They may tackle subjects that we find intimidating and overwhelming and provide meaningful explanations for our often-confusing lives. They may reinforce structured beliefs we inherited from our parents and grandparents and overall social circle, and give us an easy alternative to thinking for ourselves. Or they may be so pervasive, so generally agreed-upon, that if we question them openly, we’ll be ridiculed and/or dismissed — or both.
Mindless Money Myths lay smack-dab in the middle of that territory.
And they make me nuts.
I mean, seriously, people. We can do better than this blind trust in “received wisdom” about money — which tends to be a lot more received than it is wisdom. We can question these beliefs. We can challenge the myths. We can take them with a big fat grain o’ salt. But we don’t. We just keep on believing these stories someone told us, reinforcing our assumptions, time after time, and never getting past our money problems.
Money is the root of all evil. Money is dirty. Rich people got that way by doing bad things to innocent people. Good people give away all they own and live poor. You can’t have vast wealth and a conscience, too. Like the different definers of “myth”, the list of various Mindless Money Myths goes on — ad infinitum — providing tons of “proof” as to why we are poor or rich or in good shape or bad, financially speaking. As is often the case, we start with our beliefs, and then look for a plausible explanation that will let us keep on believing that way. Being mindless about our financial assumptions and digging up all sorts of mythology to justify our pitiable condition is a fantastic example.
“I have no money because someone has it out for me.”
“I have better things to worry about than money.”
“I don’t need money.”
“Even if I had it, I wouldn’t want it, because I’m a good person.”
“That person must not be worth much — look how poor they are.”
We have countless ways to talk about money and wealth and finance in ways that reinforce our mindlessness. We also have countless ways to talk — and think — about it mindfully, and break the svengali-like spell that our flawed financial mythology has cast over us.
Now, I’m not saying that doing away with Mindless Money Myths is going to solve all our financial woes. Far from it. But if we can at least question the underlying assumptions and inject a little fresh thinking into this whole “money deal”, we might just suffer a little less, because of money. That willingness to challenge assumptions applies to the rich and poor alike — I hear a ton of assumptions coming from people who supposedly “know about this finance stuff”… just as much as I hear it from those who are struggling. Bogus assumptions about finances aren’t the sole domain of the impoverished.
And if we can at least be less mindless — that is, more mindful — about money and its role in our lives, then who knows? We might just find a way to actually enjoy thinking and talking about the money in our lives — and we might get more satisfaction from our relationship with it, than our fleeting indulgences and occasional binges.
At the root of it all, I think challenging our outdated money mythology takes a real willingness to risk. And that’s pretty scary. Especially because it’s about a subject that cuts so close to the bone. But we have to be able to see past the pat little answers and the commonly held (and defended) assumptions, in order to open our eyes to different possibilities.
Keep thinking the same things in the same ways, with the same mental constructs, and you’ll get the same old sh*tty results you’ve been struggling with for years. Everyone from Einstein to Audre Lorde has told us that. And we should listen.
Listen to what we’re saying. Listen to what we’re thinking. Listen to what songs keep playing in our heads over and over again, as though they are Ultimate Truth. Chances are, they’re not. And chances are, as fond as we may be of our established financial mental frameworks which comfort us with their familiarity and predictability and popularity… when we look much deeper, we’ll see that — hey, check it out — they actually don’t help.