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October 17, 2016

The Five-letter word that is Killing us and Destroying the Earth

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Considering that we humans inhabit less than 50% of planet Earth, why do we continually fight and kill one another over small pieces of its surface?

And considering that our planet has so many resources which, if managed mindfully, could support us all, why is nearly half the world’s population — more than three billion people — desperately impoverished and living on less than $2.50 a day?

On the question of food alone, scientists tell us that the sea and arable land of our planet can potentially provide enough for everyone. So why do more than one billion of us not get enough to eat for even minimum health and well-being?

And with all of the amazing recent advances in medicine why are at least one billion of us not able to afford access to any health services at all?

Closer to home, why is life expectancy for Canada’s First Nations population just 64 for men and 73 for women, while among non-aboriginal Canadians it is 79 for men and 83 for women? And why in the US is a typical white household 16 times wealthier than a black one?

Meanwhile, the United States, Russia, China, and an increasing number of smaller nations have stockpiled and are still building enough nuclear weapons to destroy all life on Earth many times over.

More shocking still, is that their drive to amass deadly weaponry continues unabated at the cost of trillions of dollars annually that is sucking the earth’s resources dry.

In fact, the United States alone spends more than $150 billion on its military a year, but just $40 billion (less than one-third of that) on foreign aid.

Aside from governments, the capitalist-industrial sector also does its part to perpetuate the world’s gross imbalances in quality and dignity of life.

Take the transnational food-processing industry, which for decades has intentionally invested some billions of dollars in aggressive advertising and manipulated research to get billions of us addicted to excess sugar, resulting in steadily rising rates of obesity and diabetes.

The diet and weight-loss industries are now worth more than $600 billion alone.

But do you hear a chorus of concerned politicians calling these industries to account for their disregard of the world’s health and their massive waste of resources that could be better utilized? Not a word.

By now, you will certainly have guessed with no difficulty at all that the five-letter word referred to in my title is G-R-E-E-D.

People have understood its ethical, spiritual and philosophical implications for centuries.

Greed is all about willful intention. It has been defined as “an inordinate or insatiable longing, especially for wealth, status, and power. As a secular psychological concept, greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs.”

The ancients considered greed to top the list of serious sins committed by individuals. Every religion censures greed because it goes against the grain of inherent human decency; and once allowed to become a habit, it erodes the very core of our human nature.

You might wonder why greed would exceed even murder on the severity scale of sin.

Consider, however, why people and nations have historically indulged in murder and massacre in the first place — to acquire what they do not have and are not entitled to. In other words, greed.

The evil effects of greed escalate exponentially with the size, strength and power of the perpetrator; from the individual to the corporation, and from the individual country to an alliance of states such as NATO.

Why have many African countries been forced to sell more and more of their natural and agricultural resources in order to purchase essential farming equipment?

Why does the American dollar control the exchange and values of international currency?

Why does an American teacher working within the US make more than 20 times the salary of a teacher in India for doing essentially the same job?

Why do the CEOs of G-8 countries make thousands of times what their low-paid employees earn?

The trouble with greed is that, just like certain illicit drugs, we don’t manage or control it — it controls us.

Once greed is a part of one’s lifestyle or (as in the case of organizations) operating procedures, it wields tyrannical power over human thought, relationships, and actions.

But in the end, greed does not pay. It not only backfires morally on individuals; it cannot be sustained indefinitely by any political or commercial entity.

Read just a little history and you’ll find that what brings down and dismantles even the most successful empires has been nothing more, or less, than greed.

Ironically, with evidence all around us in our recorded past, the rich and powerful among individuals and nations have failed to grasp with each successive generation that greed is humanity’s ultimate undoing. Greed definitely does not pay.

So the daunting but necessary human challenge we face now more than ever, is that we urgently need to wean ourselves from this mass addiction to greed.

For those of us who believe in God, religion teaches that heaven has no place for the greedy.

Worse still, they create hell right here and now for themselves and others. Even as they appear to enjoy the status and fruits of their unentitled wealth, they are creating ugly places all around them. Often they don’t know it (yet) because they are continually moving towards their next conquests and acquisitions.

Is it too late for us to turn the tide and contribute to a more beautiful and sustainable way of life here on Earth by freeing ourselves from greed? I want to believe that the news is not all bad.

Consider, for example, humanitarians like Bill and Melinda Gates who have devoted their lives and vast amounts of their fortune to eradicating diseases like HIV/AIDS, Ebola and malaria.

Or J.K. Rowling, creator of the sensationally popular Harry Potter series—she has just become the first person to be dropped from the Forbes international Billionaire’s List for the “crime” of giving too much of her money away to charity. Good for her!

As individuals who don’t have millions or billions to use directly in making the world a better and less greedy place, there are still many actions we can take that add up to great collective influence.

We can vote greed out of power by staying informed about who is representing us and what their priorities really are; we can promote generosity and mindfulness in the way our children and youth are taught; we can shop with understanding of who profits from what we consume; we can teach and model generosity within our own families; we can commit within our organizations and congregations to always sharing the “three T’s” of Time, Talent and Treasure. And these are just a few of many grass-roots actions that more of us can adopt.

I can only dream … but some dreams do come true. And this one is worth working on.

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