Dirk Knemeyer

Money brings out the worst; a quick exploration of identity

During the last nine months of economic recession, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. Some were new, some were simply affirming truisms I had absorbed but not experienced, and some were things I knew but were now getting them in a different way or flavour. As is the case for many other people, it has not been an easy year.

Examining all of the battle scars, though, most garish is the stark understanding that money truly does bring out the worst in people. The latest example was just recently, from a person and in a context that I never would have expected. But it is only the most recent example in a trail that stretches back months. Money makes people act differently. And strangely. Especially when they are afraid. People I like/(d) and know/know weren’t/aren’t the same anymore.

At the superficial level, this will lead me to be more formal in agreements, and just generally assume and plan for the abnormal case as opposed to the typical – even with those I really click positively with. On a deeper level, it raises questions of being and identity: who are we, really? The person we are during our best moments? Or during the daily routine? Or who we are at moments of stress and anxiety? Or who we are during our worst moments? At some existential level the answer is “all of them”. But that runs very contrary to how we are perceived by others. Some people see most of us. Others see very little. So each of us is simultaneously thoughtful, rude, smart, absent-minded, hard-working, lazy…often polar opposites.

The differences lie in our behaviour as contexts and situations change, as well as in the perception of the various receivers. How we act in the same moment could be perceived as funny by one person and obnoxious by another. Consequently, those people have an entirely different picture of who we are – despite our being almost literally identical in both cases from an objective and sanitized standpoint.

So who is the essential me, or the essential you? Even if we stipulate that everyone’s perception of us is unique and necessarily different from one another in ways small and large, somewhere underneath it all there remains the self. Within which, we are something – either general or specific. Some of us might think we are one consistent thing, while others view themselves as complicated and diverse (an old friend of mine would refer to herself as acting depending on “the decisions of the committee in (her) head,” which would ostensibly prove variable and inconsistent over time, depending on which “committee member” was holding sway).

Are we ultimately a continuum, not any one thing but many different things? At a simple observational and analytical level that is sensible, but it doesn’t speak to the extremes. It does not seem adequate to say a serial killer, for example, is just like the rest of us but happens to have “this side” to them. I think its more than that.

No answers here yet; I haven’t really thought about it to be honest, this is more a hemorrhaging as I scratch my head in amazement at how people act when it comes to money. But these are important concepts that, while seemingly ethereal, if answerable could give us a far better understanding of humanity, behaviour, and how we as individuals and a society should shift to accommodate the reality – simple or complex – of human identity.

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