Money misleads us into believing it will bring us what we want, when in reality it is only a well-disguised substitute. ‘As a man is, so he sees,’ wrote William Blake. If we are to stop being misled by money, we need to start living in a different mode.
A shift into the becoming mode is necessary for the systematic overcoming of self-deception. Tackling decision-making errors one by one is as impossible as eating healthily while still identifying as someone that ‘wants’ cake. However many battles you win, you’ll never win the war.
Everyone in a developed society is constantly being bombarded with messages about how to save money, or earn more money, or look better, or gain status – all of which reinforce the assumption that these are things that everyone is pursuing and that really matter.
The norm of self-interest is an ideological belief, resistant to refutation by the behaviour we encounter in everyday life. Yet we are in thrall to the idea that it is ‘normal’ to be self-interested. Since most of us are keen to fit in with everyone else, we tell stories about our acts of compassion that put a self-interested face on them.
Sociologist Robert Wuthnow found that even people who acted altruistically tended to offer self-interested explanations – sometimes quite implausible ones – for what they had done. They volunteered to work for good causes, they said, because it ‘gave me something to do’ or ‘got me out of the house.’ They were reluctant to say: ‘I wanted to help.’