More Than Money
Issue #21

The Power of Talk

Table of Contents

“The Power of Talk”

Each morning when I come to work, I can't wait to check my e-mail for the latest messages from participants of the More than Money Internet Discussion Group. As moderator of this free-wheeling conversation, I'm astonished by the depth, honesty, and helpfulness shared by the 100 plus More than Money subscribers signed up for the "listserve." Most of these people have never met, or even talked on the phone, yet as one participant put it, "When I sit down to my computer to pick up my messages, I feel as if I am at a steamy cafe, chatting with friends."

What prompts this electronic dialogue? There are probably many individual answers, but the common desire is to talk about the impact of money in our lives. The contributors, whether the "regulars" or occasional participants, tell very personal stories that comment on varied concerns, including how to bring our deepest values to bear on our earning, investing, spending, giving, and social action. The goal is not agreement, but understanding and reflecting on each others' remarkably diverse perspectives.

Do human beings have an innate need to get together and talk over the things they care about and believe in? In a delightful book I recently read,The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through the Day, sociologist Ray Oldenburg answers with a resounding yes.

For Oldenburg, a "great good place" to talk is usually a physical place like a neighborhood coffee shop. Yet his basic notion can just as easily refer to temporary gatherings such as workshops, conferences, support groups, and salons. It can even include "virtual" places such as e-mail lists, electronic forums, and internet chat rooms--anywhere where "conversation is the main activity." In such places, people have an opportunity for playful interaction and dialogue, an outlet for expressions of hope and frustration, and, very importantly, a participatory way to learn more about the world. As Oldenburg notes, "What the tavern offered long before television or newspapers was a source of news along with the opportunity to question, protest, sound out, supplement and form opinion locally and collectively."

Yes, people love to talk, but the More than Money discussion group is still a rare bird. These people are not just talking. They are talking about money, power, and privilege. In fact, they are openly talking about their own money, power, and privilege! This is almost never done in polite society. The taboos and fears about talking too much or too directly about personal wealth are challenged and stretched in these conversations. The usual response, though, is one of relief and new insight. There seems to be power in talking out loud about the money in our lives, in having the chance to say the once unsayable to another human being.

I was 19 when I first broke the taboo against talking about money. Another press operator at the printshop where I worked had just complained that the company didn't pay us enough. I gulped, and finally asked, "So, how much do you make?" It turned out that this working mother of three-who had four more years on the job than I did-was making $3.50 an hour. I was making $5.50 an hour for exactly the same work. For a moment, I considered keeping my higher pay to myself, but it just didn't feel right. I gulped again, and told her my "secret."

She was angry and bitter, of course, but didn't blame me. After talking about the differences in our wages awhile, we talked to the other four printers in the department and discovered a pattern of extreme sex discrimination. As a group, we marched into our supervisor's office and demanded pay equity for the entire crew. And we got it! Everybody started making at least $5.50 an hour by the end of the week. My coworker's wages were raised to $6.00 due to her years of job seniority.

This early experience of "breaking the silence" taught me that new possibilities emerge when we talk openly together about money. If we gather the courage, we can learn from each other, inspire each other, even face some painful truths, and make changes in our lives and our world. Have you ever felt stuck or alone in your efforts to become a more creative steward of wealth, to influence your family in positive directions, to get closer to your friends, to name the pains that can come from living in what psycholo gist Jessie O'Neill has so aptly called "the Golden Ghetto?" Well, talking can help.

Money Internet Discussion Group, we get a clear glimpse of this process. While it has been difficult to choose which few themes to include from over 600 printed- out pages of e-mail amassed over a year and half, it has been a pleasure to revisit the many conversations that have happened in this "great good place." In the end, we chose three juicy dialogues and dubbed them: 1) breaking the silence, 2) opening to compassion, and 3) creating a better world. To round out the issue, we've also included a closing article by Anne Slepian and Christopher Mogil on "Finding Good Places For Money Talk."

Even though this issue is a departure from our typical format of publishing more in-depth, personal interviews and several articles focused on a single content theme, we think these three thoughtful and engaging dialogues offer proof of the power of talk. Enjoy the conversa tion!

--Steve Chase, managing editor  

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