The Evidence: We know that money speaks to us, that we speak with money, and with each other using money.
We hear promises of love, happiness, pleasure, and freedom.
We hear whispers of worth, control, power, and possibility.
Louis Nizer reminds us, “Some people will believe anything if you whisper it to them.”
Money can convey any message. The wonder of money is that it can represent anything. It’s a stand-in for what we idealize and desire, yet fear and lack; for what we covet, crave, spurn, chase or follow. We use money to show how much we care, or how little. We use to it measure success and buy happiness—or try to. We use it to bolster our self-esteem, to regulate moods, to influence others.
We give money meaning: we breathe life into it, give it emotional value, build a relationship with it and make it bigger than it is. We use money to try to soothe emotional pains, buy the respect of others, and ourselves.
Money can make any statement. What people say and do are inevitable, unavoidable self-statements of their beliefs and personal realities. All that you say is about yourself. A life story or money story manifests through self-statements. The story tells most about the teller.
Aren’t these lies?
The Answer: Money is a simple unit of value. It can’t speak, can’t promise, can’t have regrets, can’t look ahead. Money doesn’t even know who owns it. So it can’t possibly create fiction.
But we may lie to ourselves. We use money to communicate, and it says whatever we tell it to. It is our voice that we project onto money. Money is the universal Rorschach inkblot that we imbue with whatever design or image we create. We imagine all sorts of things using money, and ultimately have to confront the illusion that it is our voice, our hope—nothing that is intrinsic to money.
The more we give money meaning, the more we lose focus on what money means.
Money is the one true metaphor that can stand for anything else. But it can’t lie.