Greed – the necessity or choice?

Agnieszka Wloka’s article is an attempt at understanding of the phenomenon of greed and its perception in the modern world – the world in which we have not heard that word for a long time. The article ends with the hints and tasks how to self-diagnose and overcome greed.

“Material profit – psychological loss”

Psychology as the field of science investigating the causes of human behaviour  adores asking provocative questions, such as: “Why do people constantly want more?” Let’s think about the problem of possession.

That’s how the brain works

According to the psychologists, human behaviour depends on, among the others, personality traits and the occurring situation. Greed is an excellent example of this principle since, even though  it’s a personality trait, its emergence derives from a particular social condition.  Going back to the meaning of the word “greed,” we should adopt it as an excessive, according to social evaluation,  desire for various commodities (not necessarily in a material sense).

The greed is also connected with strong emotions and it may happen that the person is not fully aware of “what s/he is doing.” The psychologists have been examining cerebral processes of the people to whom the possibility of a high income had been previously suggested. It turns out, that the prospect of a high profit triggers the brain centres related to experiencing reward  and acceptation.  The profit anticipation is very pleasant and people react as if they were on drugs.  As a result, it deprives people of the common sense and leads to some unpleasant consequences.

That is what the mass culture teaches us

We live in a world in which “to have is to be,” and this happens to be a perfect ground for greed. The compulsion of possession and accumulation leads us to the fall into madness of an unsatisfied need. It can be proven even by the clothes in every woman’s wardrobe (including mine!)which have never been worn.  The fact that we still long to possess more goods is a source of frustration and breakdown.  Here emerges the answer to the question of the reasons for the stream of depression, criminal tendencies and many other anomalies – the man has to somehow fight with the frustration.

We tend to hide our egoism

The effects of the promoted lifestyle on the mental health and social functioning are worth considering. It sometimes appears that  the attachment to material goods is a reasonable sign of the forethought. Greed has been crossed out from the dictionary and replaced by “thriftiness”, whereas the behaviour formerly considered as a sign of greed is nowadays generally accepted. It occurs, due to the fact that it rather recalls harmless parsimony or hedonistic longing for pleasure. Unfortunately, the change of vocabulary, does not imply the change in the attitude.  We are also prone to use the term “ambition” in order to cover our greed. Nevertheless, greed not only surpass our inner needs, but also the resources we posses. It is the ambition to posses which is out of our control.

First step towards addiction

Greed is an exceptionally primitive kind of egoism, because the greedy person is not only incapable of selfless help , but also cannot make use of what s/he has for her/his own pleasure. In this case, the mechanism of addiction is evident.  After all, the penchant for addictions is the stigma of our era, and newer forms of addiction spring out continuously.  The greedy person is sure that when s/he gains  lots of money, s/he will be happy. However, it soon turns out that s/he is unable to enjoy it. At some point s/he does not see any other option but to accumulate more and more, which leads to the loss of one’s grip on reality and the value of possessed things. Psychopathology distinguishes addictions to stock market, and  gambling, then in general – to money. As it was mentioned before, the psychological research has proven that the brain reacts to money similarly as it does to drugs or sex.

An example of the compulsive and group greed can be the behaviour of the Dutchmen who began to grow rich on the tulip farming. When the streak of success crushed, it lead to tragic consequences: thousands of people found themselves onto the streets,  committed suicides,  or became imprisonment for debts. Such a phenomenon can be called the mania of possession, similar to Polish Amber Gold scandal.

Ironically, this kind of behaviour gives people the sense of security, because other ways of its maintenance has been put over the limits of the greedy person long time ago. It is mainly due to the fact that parsimony - the inseparable companion of greed – does not awoke human approval, thus the greedy person does not keep any social contact and locks her/himself in one’s universe.

The examples can be multiplied

An excellent illustration of this issue is Erich von Stroheim’s  film “Greed”, which presents the rapacious description of greed, leading to a ruthless crime. Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” can be another illustration, in which the author states: “What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?” That is a precise metaphor of what the greed makes with people. J.C. Chandor showed its different facet in “Margin Call.” It is an American film from 2011, based on the events of financial crisis in 2007. The most important themes of the film are the characters’ dilemmas. They are forced to ruthlessness, according to the rule: who starts the crisis, gains millions. What has changed in the understanding of greed at the turn of the century? The money  still plays the most important part, but the range of its impact has spread – one can claim that greed is a globalised rapacity.

We can deal with it

Fortunately, if we know the mechanism of emergence and development of the human greed’s propensity we can fight with them.  If we realize that, indeed, this feature does not make our lives easier, it is the first step to ‘recover.’ Next measures should be related to the causes of greed, that is anxiety, no sense of security, distrust, or maybe ordinary conformism. In all of these cases, the cure lies in the grow of self-esteem in the fields not related to possession and accumulation of commodities.

My personal observations have lead me to the conclusion that people who have their passions can alienate themselves from the rate race of possession. You may ask: “What if I do not have any passions, or if possessing more is my passion?” First of all: passions do not appear out of the blue, they can be found only through self-discovery. You do not need a special training for it, even though it would not harm anybody. Usually, finding the time for relaxation and ability to spend time with oneself is enough.  Besides, who said that we can only have one passion? If you like to hoard, it is okay, but try something else. Challenging oneself is the best method to overcome the vices.

Personally, I have one more infallible technique of fighting with greed, namely – the other person. If you have a person to whom you can and want to devote your time, if you have someone to talk to, and above all – a true friend, capable of reasonable judgement, it will be much easier to face the problem of greed.

Without a doubt, it is good to observe those who are undeniably greedy and at the same time are embarrassing  themselves and others  with their actions when we are fighting with greed. Perchance, you know the politicians, journalists, celebrities, who without any self-respect insist on preserving their position, even though they do not fit there at all. After such observation, you will certainly eschew greed.

You decide!

I hope that the man of postmodern era, involved in marketing tricks will learn how to thoughtfully look at what he has been offered, and that s/he will cope with the control over the penchants for possessing. As a matter of fact, greed, as we commonly understand it, accompanies every human being and spices up our lives. Only taken to its excess, greed destroys and demoralizes, yet controlled and focused on actual goods, may bring some benefit. The question is, are we sure that at some point we will not transform ourselves from the reasonable consumer into “consumed slaves?”

Let’s give ourselves three preliminary tasks, in order to diagnose how greedy we are:

  1. When you are in a great shop, with cool stuff  which you absolutely need (:P) try not buy one of them.  Next time do not buy two, next time do not buy ... Pay attention on your thoughts, feelings, and on the way in which you are going to joke and relieve the tension.
  2. Give someone a thing to which you are attached. Observe, how do you  let that thing go, and how close to you has to be the person to whom you are giving the gift.

How did you pass the trials? How do you estimate your greed? Or maybe you still think that you are the person who does not have any greed and you control your attachment to things. The fight with greed is not so terrible – I know from experience that when we give somebody something tangible, or even our free time, it comes back to us in a form of self-satisfaction. Lack of greed is a remedy for dissatisfaction and boredom!

translation: A. Wieczorek

Koło Naukowe Anglistów NeoLit

Studia: Magister psychologii i licencjat pedagogiki Zainteresowania: Psychologia religii i duchowości, teologia, muzyka klasyczna, terapia dzieci Doświadczenie zawodowe: praktyki w Zakładzie karnym, Domu Pomocy Społecznej; Szkole podstawowej, Warsztatach terapii zajęciowej; Studia: Magister psychologii i licencjat pedagogiki Zainteresowania: Psychologia religii i duchowości, teologia, muzyka klasyczna, terapia dzieci Doświadczenie zawodowe: praktyki w Zakładzie karnym, Domu Pomocy Społecznej; Szkole podstawowej, Warsztatach terapii zajęciowej;Dodatkowe doświadczenie (działalność w organizacjach, praktyki, wolontariat): wolontariat w świetlicy socjoterapeutycznej i Stowarzyszeniu Kultury Osób Niepełnosprawnych; koordynator regionalny akcji Szlachetna Paczka 2010r. (...)


Pomoc psychologiczna

Studenci i Doktoranci Uniwersytetu Śląskiego mogą korzystać z bezpłatnego wsparcia psychologicznego i poradnictwa w Centrum Obsługi Studenta.

Skontaktuj się ze specjalistami w następujących obszarach:

W celu ustalenia terminu indywidualnej konsultacji psychologicznej prosimy o kontakt drogą elektroniczną lub telefonicznie.