March Madness is over this year, with Kansas winning over North Carolina, 72-69. There is not much to understand about it: The players loved it, the colleges loved it, the people loved it. The 67 teams will get over it — and now it’s over.
There is a major distinction between March madness and money madness. What is money madness? It’s accumulating money until you have enough. How do you know when you have enough money? That’s the madness part – you don’t! It’s always, “Get more money,” unless we make a decision about it.
The major distinction between accumulating points in a basketball game and accumulating money is this: The basketball game ends! There is a buzzer that ends the game. The buzzer sounds – the game is over! It is the buzzer that limits the game, and that’s what makes the game worthwhile.
Imagine if the basketball players in the March Madness finale had to continue to play that game with no end, with no buzzer. Headlines 2062: “As of today, Kansas scores its 1,275,314th point!” What is the point? Imagine someone who accumulates $1 billion. What is the point?
Long ago, I was a monk in a Catholic religious order for 10 years. We followed a monastic rule, but we also had a job to do — teaching. We took three vows, one of which was a vow of poverty. That is, we did not own anything. We wore black robes which we didn’t even own.
It was the richest period of my life! I didn’t worry about money for one second. If I needed a pair of pants (we wore them underneath the robes), I would ask the Brother Director for some money to buy them. He usually accommodated me. We didn’t have to accumulate.
I always had “enough” and didn’t worry about having more. There was a buzzer in that game. It was Brother Director! Of course, we had our vow of poverty as a backup.
If you are born in America, you are born a capitalist. It fosters the disease of “not- enoughness.” Someone asked John D. Rockefeller, “How much is enough?” His answer was, “Just a little bit more!” It is a disease which has no natural ending, unless we personally decide to end it (the disease, that is).
When my daughter was young, we bought her a beanie baby. Then she used a word that horrified me: “Collection!” I knew we were doomed. There was to be no buzzer, no endpoint. Beanie babies galore! Ty Warner, I hold you responsible for this!
To win the game of money accumulation, you need to get more, and then more, and then more. But when is the game over? When do you finally win? You don’t! We should treat accumulation like the game of basketball. The players took the game very seriously. They gave it their all. But there was a buzzer to end it! So they stopped!
There is a buzzer in the game of life as well, known commonly as “death.” When we forget to set a buzzer on the game of accumulation while we are here, the consequences are quite disastrous for others on the planet — it kills people! Each accumulated dollar deprives others of the limited resources that dollar could provide.
UNICEF-USA estimates that 19,000 children under age 5 die each day from preventable causes. One-third of them die from causes related to malnutrition. Many perish from diseases that are preventable and treatable. It is a misdirection of our resources that causes those 19,000 deaths. Those resources make no difference in the world. They are simply digits piling up on somebody’s balance sheet. Unquestioned accumulation of money creates a lethal game.
March Madness is over now. It was fun, but it’s gone. The fun — and pain — of money accumulation will continue until we each create our own buzzer, our own end point. How much is enough?
When Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis in the 1960s, they had a prenuptial agreement. She was allowed $25,000 a month for spending money. It wasn’t money she had to use when she went to the store to buy milk. It was just for casual spending. We can do better than that!
We have so much to learn from those basketball players. They played their hearts out, but it was just a game, and it ended. Some cried for joy and some for sorrow, but they knew it was over. They shook hands, and they went home.
There is not an absolute answer to the question: How much is enough? What personal buzzer have you set?
The author lives in Santa Barbara