Usury is the very antithesis of the gift, for instead of giving to others when one has more than one needs, usury seeks to use the power of ownership to gain even more—to take from others rather than to give, writes Jenberu Haile.
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,
“You owe me.”
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.
—Hafiz, paraphrased by Daniel Ladinsky
At its core, money is a beautiful concept. Let me be very naïve for a moment so as to reveal this core, this spiritual (if not historical) essence of money. I have something you need, and I wish to give it to you. So I do, and you feel grateful and desire to give something to me in return. But you don’t have anything I need right now. So instead you give me a token of your gratitude. Later, when I receive a gift from someone else, I give them that token.
Money becomes necessary when the range of our gifts must extend beyond the people we know personally. Traditional, decentralized gift networks gave way to centralized systems of redistribution, with the temple, and later the royal palace, as the hub. They soon diverged from the gift mind-set as contributions became forced and quantified, and outward disbursement became unequal.
We are faced with a paradox. On the one hand money is properly a token of gratitude and trust, an agent of the meeting of gifts and needs. As such it should make us all richer. Yet it does not. Instead, it has brought insecurity, poverty, and the liquidation of our cultural and natural commons. Why?
The cause of these things lies deep within the very heart of today’s money system…usury, better known as interest. Usury is the very antithesis of the gift, for instead of giving to others when one has more than one needs, usury seeks to use the power of ownership to gain even more—to take from others rather than to give.
The money created [by most countries’ Federal Reserve] accompanies a corresponding debt, and the debt is always for more than the amount of money created. Usury both generates today’s endemic scarcity and drives the world-devouring engine of perpetual growth. To make new money to keep the whole system going we have to create more “goods and services” . . . [by] selling something that was once free.
Completing the vicious circle, the more of life we convert into money, the more we need money to live. Usury, not money, is the proverbial root of all evil.
“This economy kills.” The divide between the wealthy and the poor not only in Ethiopia but in the United States continues to grow. A handful of billionaires are literally “making a killing,” while millions who live below the poverty line are “making a dying,” and very few make a fair living. Just one tangible example: without access to affordable health care, roughly “40 percent of Americans take on debt because of medical issues.” Time Magazine, Dec 2017.
A lot of attention is being called to the poverty of ethics and morality within the global economy. It is being reported that “No profit is in fact legitimate when it falls short of the objective of the integral promotion of the human person, the universal destination of goods, and the preferential option for the poor.” The economy must “aim above all to promote the global quality of life that, before the indiscriminate expansion of profits, leads the way toward the integral well-being of the entire person and of every person.” Markets “are not capable of governing themselves,” and so it is our duty as citizens of Earth and builder of the New United Ethiopia to hold businesses, banks, and political leaders to higher standards.
How else might we participate in co-creating a new economy that is equitable for all? Jim Wallis writes, “While it is good to protest, having an alternative is better.” The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. More and more companies all over the world are practicing fair trade, reducing waste, using renewable resources, and investing in healthy communities and ecosystems. Support or start one of these businesses!
As Paul Hawken suggests, “We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. The world begs for dreamers to set up shop, invent a new product or social technology, and create the kinds of breakthroughs that will bring us together to act responsibly as passengers on this magnificent place we call home.”
We know from history that when those most impacted by injustice band together with moral leaders, clergy, activists, and all people of conscience—that is when we can make a change. That is when our country gets better for everyone, not just a select few in terms of economic wellbeing.
In her book “The Soul of Money”, Lynne Twist explains the power we’ve given our image of money and reminds us of our true longings and needs.
Money is not a product of nature. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Money is an invention; a fabrication. Money still facilitates the sharing and exchange of goods and services, but somewhere along the way the power we gave money outstripped its original utilitarian role.
We have made money more important than we are, given it more meaning than human life. Humans have done and will do terrible things in the name of money. They have killed for it, enslaved other people for it, and enslaved themselves to joyless lives in pursuit of it.
For most of us, this relationship with money is a deeply conflicted one; and our behavior with and around money is often at odds with our most deeply held values, commitments, and ideals—what I call our soul. . . . I believe that under it all . . . what deeply matters to human beings, our most universal soulful commitments and core values, is the well-being of the people we love, ourselves, and the world in which we live.
We really do want a world that works for everyone. We don’t want children to go hungry. We don’t want violence and war to plague the planet. We don’t want torture and revenge and retribution to be instruments of government and leadership. Everyone wants a safe, secure, loving, nourishing life for themselves and the ones they love and really for everyone. I also believe that under their fears and upsets, even the deepest ones, everyone wants to love and be loved, and make a difference with their lives. I believe people also want an experience of their own divinity, their own connectedness with all life and the mystery of something greater than we comprehend.
Each of us experiences a lifelong tug-of-war between our money interests and the calling of our soul. When we’re in the domain of soul, we act with integrity. We are thoughtful and generous, allowing, courageous, and committed. We are open, vulnerable, and heartful. We are trustworthy and trusting of others. We feel at peace within ourselves and confident that we are an integral part of a larger, more universal experience, something greater than ourselves. When we re-achieve this mindset of our forefathers, we will surely be committed to build our Ethiopia from the bottom up.
Ed.’s Note: Jenberu Haile is the general manager of JHAMNZ General Consultancy and Training Services. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].