Infected With Greed

By Louise Aldrich Bugbee, former longtime Gazette columnist, with 1,500 columns to her credit, and author of the book, Confessions of a Difficult Dame, in which many of these columns rest, now resides in Florida. From the Vineyard Gazette editions of December, 1992:

I learned about greed when I was about four years old and discovered it was a bad thing. Bad for the person who practices it and bad for those associated with that person. Only later did I discover how bad it is for the world. It was at a Christmas entertainment at the village church. Someone handed me (or so I thought) a bag of candy. It was meant to be passed around. At that age I could have been forgiven for my mistake and no doubt everyone else did forgive me. Since I was raised without other children around, any bag of candy I had been handed was always all for me.

My brother corrected me and explained that if I kept it all others wouldn’t have any. Good things were to be shared.

I thought about that all evening, so much so that Santa when he arrived, the songs, recitations and distribution of presents wasn’t quite as happy an occasion for me as it should have been. I had been greedy and greedy people were something the community didn’t need.

The lesson was well worth the price and it was fortunate to have learned it at an early age. Only later did I think “greed” with sorrowful contempt but I knew from then on that to take it all deprived others, made nice people like my brother embarrassed and uncomfortable and wasn’t the thing to do. I’ve always liked the definition of good manners as “showing consideration for others, making others comfortable and happy.”

It gets more complicated as one grows older. It seems to me that it gets more complicated as the world grows older. It’s so complicated that when I spout off about high incomes, an abundance of luxuries for the few while many worry about money to pay the rent and others don’t worry about the rent because they have no home being very bad manners, many people change the subject or walk away to avoid me.

They shouldn’t avoid the subject even if they are guilty of a little greed. We all are. I’m not out to abolish greed (I’ll fight a few windmills but seldom waste much time butting my head against brick walls). I just want to let people know it isn’t an admirable trait and should be watched carefully and not allowed to be the driving force in one’s life.

I slipped up a few weeks ago. Not that I grabbed the whole bag of candy again. It seemed innocent enough at the time.

There was this letter asking if I’d like to win a million dollars, return stamped envelope provided.

In all honesty I had to answer yes. That didn’t seem greedy.

I even thought of people I’d shared with before I thought of the trip around the world I’d enjoy. A couple of people I know are having trouble paying their bills, heating their houses, repairing the family car to pass inspection and stuff like that.

Greed is the fertilizer that makes scams grow lush and prolific. The world must be infected with greed because since I returned the letter with a “yes, I’d like to win a million” answer, I get three letters a day, on average, announcing contests, give-aways with invitations to buy perfume, jewelry, adjustable beds and magazines and win a million.

Contempt for the companies who send out this junk mail by the car load? Well, yes but what worries me is this streak of greed that made me answer yes. I should have said, “Only if I can earn it,” (and what person is worth a million?) or “If I can be polite and proper and take only what I need and pass it on.”

Worse than that is concern that we are all so tainted with greed that it is profitable for companies to compose, print and mail all these invitations to cultivate the rather unpleasant trait.

These scams are, to be trite, only the tip of the iceberg. Too large a proportion of the population is knowingly or unknowingly grabbing the whole bag of candy. Of course fear is another bad thing. There is always the fear that the bag of candy will be grabbed by someone else and never passed our way again.

The grabbers are seldom satisfied or made happy by their greed and often think it is because they didn’t grab enough. Those at the end of the line left holding the empty bag learn only that it is desirable to get to the top of the line and grab first. Those at either end of the line are not becoming better humans or less fearful.

I learned about greed at age four, that it was a bad thing, still know that but in a rather long lifetime I haven’t learned what to do about it, haven’t convinced the world that it is a bad thing to be avoided and can’t even say that I can set a good example by being entirely free of it myself.

I had my first lesson at Christmas many years ago. At Christmas, along with the “What are you giving me? This is what I want,” there is also a lot of unselfish giving. To give where there is no possibility or thought of receiving probably won’t wipe out greed but quite possibly it will inhibit its growth, just a little.

Compiled by Eulalie Regan