More Than Money
Issue #31

The Everyday Ethics of Wealth

Table of Contents

“Finding Fun in Unexpected Places”

By Christopher Mogil

I've come to enjoy thinking about everyday ethical money questions. But it hasn't always been that way.

For years I felt I was practically breathing the questions— they came so fast and furious: Do I buy this cup of fair-trade coffee (even though I don't like the taste so much)? When buying property with friends, how do we share the ownership in a way that feels "fair," given our very different means? How much do I gift (and bequeath) to my child vs. how much do I give to others in greater need? Do I ask for a bigger salary, even if I don't personally need so much? Do I make sure my stock proxies are voted? Do I commit some of my giving to community-based foundations that are democratizing philanthropy by putting diverse community representatives on their boards and also give to projects run by my friends? Whether I'm thinking about spending, investing, earning, giving, or leaving a legacy, there are lots of complex questions. And of course, each question, whether small or large, leads to a host of others.

The decision-making process started to get more fun for me after:
(1) I stopped focusing on what a bother it all was and started appreciating how lucky I am to have so many meaningful choices.
(2) I started tackling lots of questions by deciding what I wanted to do for now in these areas, knowing I could always change my mind later. I lifted some of the ethical burden by recognizing that most of my decisions were a work-inprogress and I could make them more intelligently over time, with input from other thoughtful people. (Having a community like MTM has come in handy here!)
(3) Plus (ah, true confessions!), I worked to drop my judgment of other people. Although I could sometimes entertain myself with self-righteous scorn of others, my pleasure was so much greater when I actually connected with people and sought to understand how they made their choices. Then, comparing notes with others became much more free and interesting. My stance shifted to, "How do you think about these things?" instead of, "Do you agree with me?"
(4) I decided that instead of sweating all the small stuff or worrying about not being ethically pure, I would concentrate on some area I could really get excited about putting energy into over time. My notion was that if my choice came from some honest-to-goodness personal enthusiasm (as opposed to grudging dutifulness), I would be more likely to stick with that choice a lot longer—and maybe even inspire some of my friends to want to try it, too (which, in turn, would make it even more fun for me!). My personal guideposts have been building community and sharing resources. (I have chosen to put energy into these areas in both my personal and work lives). Other areas of concern I have let recede or ripen gently in the background.

Christopher Mogil is co-founder of More Than Money. He is an awardwinning writer, workshop leader, and organizer on issues of wealth and philanthropy.

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