Twist, Lynne (2003) The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources. WW Norton: New York, NY.
This is a book about the excessive impact money has on our lives and also how we can realign how we use money to our values. She tells some interesting stories. I was especially moved by the stories from the Women’s Conference, including that of an Indian woman who came to tell her story of being burned by her family (an all too common practice associated with the dowry) before she died so that her life could have meaning.
One story captures the essence of the book. Lynne helped start the Hunger Project and acted as fund-raiser. She was speaking in the late 1970’s in Harlem to an audience who barely had two cents to rub together. The basement of old church was filled with the plink-plink of drips from leaking ceilings hitting buckets below. After talking about the Project’s commitment in Africa, it came time to request donations, an ‘ask’ filled with misgivings in that setting, hers the only White face in the room.
After dead silence, Gertrude, a gray-haired woman stood up. “Now, I ain’t got no checkbook and I ain’t go no credit cards. To me, money is a lot like water. For some folks it rushes through their life like a raging river. Money comes through my life like a little trickle. But I want to pass it on in a way that does the most good for the most folks. I see that as my right and as my responsibility. It is also my joy. I have fifty dollars in my purse that I earned from doing a white woman’s wash and I want to give it to you.”
Twist talks about the need to foster a culture of enough, of sufficiency. While our culture is steeped in insufficiency (never enough time or money), which leads to mean-spiritedness and competition, we can foster a culture of sufficiency and focus on appreciation, which fosters pride, self-sufficiency and collaboration. She tells the story of the Magnificent Seven, a handful of people in an area Bangladesh, Sylhet, where the citizens had all but given up on their homeland. It had been degraded and flooded and overrun with poisonous invasive plants. They bought into being needy, waiting for the UN to bring aid. But through a series of asset-based meetings, the people began to envision what they wanted for their community, and seven men formed a concept called the Chowtee Project: A Bold Step for Self-Reliance. They took back the land, involved the young people who had turned to crime. They uncovered an unknown lake and stream loaded with fish. They now had all they needed: produce, fish, the vision, the muscle and the creativity to succeed.
The last concept that stuck with me was the importance of making a stand. Their Project was in Tamil Nadu in India where it was still a secret practice to kill baby girls. A small group of women gathered to talk about their shame and guilt. Each had killed at least one daughter herself and had helped other women do the same. In this safe enclave they talked about the experience and broke the taboo. After purging their pain, the committed to stop this practice of infanticide and to help other women stop it as well. They committed never to participate in the practice again and if they heard of a planned infanticide, they would do what they could to stop it. . They would be the generation to stop this terrible practice. Later they told Lynne that they could not have been able to take this strong stand without the eyes and ears of outsiders. They had wanted to speak out before but could not within their own culture. They were ready to change the dowry system at the root of this evil. A famous set of movie stars joined the campaign and made a short film promoting reverence for baby girls. A popular singer followed suit. Journalists began to report the story. And today, the practice of paying a dowry is no longer assumed and girls are becoming significant wage earners. That is the power of 16 women getting together and publicly refusing to go along with an insane and inhumane cultural practice.
While many of these stories stem from the developing world, the messages are all the more poignant set in our society of plenty, some might say excess. We certainly have enough and our society would be happier and healthier if we tapped into gratitude and the power of self-sufficiency.