A million dollars worth of enlightenment.

What would you do if you were given a million dollars? A lot of people say that they would give it to charity. They’d spend it on something good or worthwhile – defeat cancer, solve hunger, stop war. Maybe they’d also give some to family members who were in debt.

Sometimes I think they are lying for the sake of sounding like they are nicer than they are. Would any of us, really, give away all that money to help others? Wouldn’t we spend some of it on ourselves first? I know I would. Perhaps I want everybody else to be honest. Or perhaps I don’t want to think I’m the only selfish person around.

Sure, I’m not entirely self-centered. I want to learn how to do conflict negotiation. I want to be a peacemaker. Learning how to do that will take time and money – and I won’t get that money back. The peacemaking I’ll do will be for free. And I want to learn how to perform life-cycle ceremonies for people, like weddings and funerals. There are plenty of people who need these ceremonies but they don’t belong to a faith community. I would perform those ceremonies for free. The classes and time to learn how to do that are not cheap, however.

If a million dollars came my way I’d show it a good time. I’d pay off the cars and the house. I’d build a storm shelter in the basement. I’d put away a large chunk in savings. I doubt I’d quit my job because I like having some structure to my days, but I might go part time and spend the rest of the time taking classes or volunteering. I certainly would take more time to work on my art.

But I wouldn’t just give it away. There are so many things that might be helped with a judicious application of money, but they won’t be cured. Throw a million dollars at the homeless problem and you’ll just have another batch of homeless people in a year. Throw a million dollars to solving child abuse and you’ll have more abused children later. Sometimes it isn’t about money, but about attitude. So often we are trying to fix something with a band-aid when really only an amputation will cure it. So often we treat the symptom rather than the cure.

I’ve heard of people making “blessing bags” for homeless people. The bags have food for a day, along with toiletries and some underwear and socks. That is something – and I’ve long said it is better to do something than nothing. But that is only for that day. And meanwhile, the person still will be sleeping in the cold and the rain.

Maybe it is the yetzer hara speaking. Maybe I’m getting frustrated because I think the goal should be to prevent people becoming homeless, and I can’t figure out the solution. But I also want to prevent people becoming drug addicts, or bullies, or child abusers, or rapists, or prostitutes. I want to prevent the problem, and it seems so much bigger than I can possibly get my head around. I’d rather prevent someone becoming a child abuser than say I want to prevent child abuse. See the difference? It is the difference between teaching women to not be a target for a rapist, and teaching men to not rape. The person being attacked has a problem, certainly. But the person who is the attacker has a problem too. Stop the problem at the source and you’ve fixed two problems rather than one.

I have some ideas about this. The attacker feels lesser-than. The attacker feels that the other person has something that they need. The attacker often does not feel that the other person is a person at all – and that is why it is OK to attack them. Empathy is part of the solution. How do we teach this?

I don’t think money is the cure for this. I think some of it is an attitude shift in our society that needs to help people feel comfortable expressing themselves. They also need to be comfortable with other people being different and having different opinions. Teaching people dialogue versus debate would be helpful. But that isn’t money, but time and mindset. It is time for a different way of thinking.

Money just short-changes growth. It is like putting training wheels on a bike. You may be able to ride that bike, but you don’t really have the balance necessary. You haven’t built up those muscles yet. You ran right past the experience of falling down (many) times. So you can ride, but you have to have the training wheels to do it, and you can’t empathize with people who had to do it the hard way.

I’ve heard that people who have a lot of money are the least likely to volunteer or to donate money to charity. Perhaps something about having it easy makes it harder to understand those who have it hard.