Having grown up in a diverse, socio-economic environment I am familiar with the tricks of the money mask. I attended public school (except for that one year that I went to all girls private Catholic school that eventually closed) and was raised around kids that had absolutely nothing, and also kids that seemed to have everything.

I drove a Ford Fiesta (banana yellow) car which had a broken gas gauge. My friends mostly drove similar vehicles but also some nice ones. My dad drove a Cadillac and so did some of my “suburban” friends. Just 10-15 miles in one direction outside of my own neighborhood, my friends drove Saabs, had lake houses, and long driveways.

Just a few blocks in the other direction of my house, the homes were falling apart, there was crime, and a growing homeless population the closer we got to city center.

As I said, it was diverse. And I have always been aware that I was privileged. So much so, that I remember feeling guilty when I got my braces in the sixth grade. “Not everyone can afford these” I would say to my mom. A strong sense of gratitude was something that came in my DNA.

When I grew older and I started learning about getting into trouble, it became clear that money could get me (I went big when I messed up) and others out of it. It was a vehicle to safety, a mask of reality. Money could paint over the external perception of a terrible situation and buy a second, third or fourth chance. I experienced that myself, I saw it among friends, and among people I heard about.

But the older I have gotten, the more insidiously impactful I recognize the mask to be. Money or the lack of, changes the trajectory of everything. This topic probably deserves an entire book, and no doubt there are some circulating. But I bring it up today in the following context:

I was watching the 2016 documentary “Team Foxcatcher” about John du Pont’s role in USA wresting and eventual murder of his closest ally. Du Pont’s ridiculous and seemingly narcissistic behavior that led to this tragic crime was so enabled if not fueled by his wealth, it was palpable. At every level his actions were so inappropriate, while on the other end of the spectrum, exceedingly “philanthropic” which only drew more and more supporters from those who were in need.

In many circles so much of his behavior would have resulted in complete solitude since most sane people would never tolerate his antics. There would be no reason to allow such manipulation by one person. But since the road was paved with greenbacks, du Pont was allowed to spiral and become the worse version of himself.

If you are so inspired, check out the film. See if what I am trying to (perhaps unskillfully) describe is apparent to you. Then do a check in with yourself to see if you might be tolerating unacceptable, volatile and even abusive treatment from someone who has resources otherwise inaccessible to you.

And also make sure you are not playing the other part of the role, using generosity as a means of staying in good graces with people who would drop you like a bad habit if you weren’t a “good time Charlie” or funding someone’s tuition in the name of being a good friend. Grooming is grooming, no matter if you are John du Pont or Michael Jackson.

Whatever our relationship is to money, it masks more than we can grasp. No different than many of the anesthesias that permeate our culture, and surround us from dawn to dusk (and non-slumber) the role of money in our lives and relationships needs to be consistently checked. If not, we can fall prey to the forces it so masterfully conceals.

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