The Desire to Acquire

“Out of need springs desire, and out of desire springs the energy and the will to win.” – Denis Waitley

Just the other day, I came across a Time magazine front-cover story on ambition that I’d clipped a while back. Though it possessed many flawed premises and opinions masquerading as facts, it prompted me to reflect on the subject. The essence of the article was an exploration of the factors that are responsible for some people being ambitious and others not.

The article stated, “Of all the impulses in humanity’s behavioral portfolio, ambition – that need to grab an ever bigger piece of the resource pie before someone else gets it – ought to be one of the most democratically distributed. Nature is a zero-sum game, after all. Every buffalo you kill for your family is one less for somebody else’s; every acre of land you occupy elbows out somebody else.”

I feel morally obliged to temporarily sidetrack myself here, because Marxist rhetoric like this is precisely what deters the underprivileged from doing the very things they need to do to lift themselves up. Ignorant, left-wing college profs have been teaching this kind of gibberish to malleable-minded students since the days of the Greek Empire, while at the same time shameless and/or ignorant politicians have been brainwashing the parents of those same kids.

In truth, any honest, half-intelligent individual in this day and age of highly visible entrepreneurial wealth creation certainly realizes that neither nature nor business nor life itself is a zero-sum game. In every country where the zero-sum game has been played out, the results have been catastrophic.

The list is a long one, including the former Soviet Union, Albania, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, China, North Korea, Cuba, and Mozambique. And all the countries on the list have three things in common: torture and suffering for the masses, special treatment for the anointed privileged class, and a failed economy.

Unfortunately, Western societies seem intent on following the loud voices of the zero-sum-game crowd down an egalitarian path that leads only to real communism (as opposed to theoretical communism, which is but a fairy tale).

What they cannot seem to grasp is that those who create wealth almost always do so by creating value for others. Or, to continue the metaphor, they increase the size of the pie. That’s why just about every family in the U.S. has the means to buy television sets, DVD players, video-game consoles, computers, cellphones, and an endless array of other electronics that are strictly discretionary in nature – i.e., they are not necessities by any stretch of the imagination.

The dictionary defines greed as “an excessive desire to acquire more than what one needs or deserves.” Asinine. I guess I’m not smart enough to understand who has the wisdom, let alone the moral authority, to decide what anyone else needs or deserves.

Since the words “excessive” and “more than what one needs or deserves” are subjective, what greed really means is a desire to acquire. And, though it may ruffle the feathers of many to hear it, the reality is that all human beings have that desire.

One person might desire to acquire power over others by leading or joining a humanitarian crusade. Another person might desire to acquire material wealth by providing products or services that people are willing to purchase from him. And still another might desire to acquire the respect of others through artistic achievements. In any event, all of these individuals are “greedy” in the sense that they “desire to acquire.”

Though the audience was set up to hiss and boo when Gordon Gekko (in the 1987 movie Wall Street) spewed out those now-famous words “Greed is good,” the fact is that he was absolutely right. Or at least he was conditionally right. Greed is good if it leads to honest wealth creation.

As Brian Tracy has pointed out, greed is actually neutral. Greed is neither good nor bad. What is good or bad is the method a person employs to fulfill his desires.

Just as guns don’t kill people, neither do greed or ambition, of and by themselves, harm anyone. However, some people do choose to use greed and ambition to do harm, just as some people use guns to kill.

So long as you do not use force or fraud to acquire what you desire, there’s no need to apologize for being “greedy” – and certainly not for any success you are able to achieve. As an added bonus, keep in mind that, through the invisible hand of the market, every dollar you make benefits society as a whole.

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