Greed to Generosity
and Enneagram Types

SYNOPSIS OF ARTICLE: What are the roots of greed? How is it that we never seem to have enough? Here I show how a deep fear of both an inner and outer scarcity drives our greed. And greed, the insatiable desire for more determines so much of modern life. So, I invite you to come and explore with me this key ingredient of our lives.

From Personal Greed to Essential Generosity:
Journey through the Shadow of Inner and Outer Emptiness

By David Daniels, M.D.

Greed: The inordinate or insatiate longing especially for wealth; avaricious or covetous desire; a form of violence as it violates the boundaries and being of others, even their “primal property,” their bodies.

Covetous: The marked or inordinate desire for wealth or possessions especially for another’s possessions; a craving for possessions or power; greedy, grasping, avaricious

Avaricious: Having a huge appetite, ravenous, insatiable

The Interrelated Core Roots of Greed

Scarcity leading to outer emptiness. Concern that there is just not enough. This ties into human and mammalian evolution. We share the three basic aversive emotions – anger, distress, and fear – experienced by all mammals, and this goes back 100 million years of evolution. These emotions went felt are painful, and we don’t want to experience them. But as uncomfortable as they may “feel,” they drive us to fulfill our basic needs for worthiness (dignity), love, and security. In terms of evolution, we only came out of Africa 50 – 75 thousand years ago, a droplet in the ocean of evolutionary time.

As expressed by Carl Sagan’s one-year calendar of evolution, we have been on the planet for less than the last hour of the last day of the year. Our behavior, as it stands, is rooted in our evolution. Driving our behavior is a fear of outer emptiness, which propels us to pursue more security, a sense of worthiness and dignity (getting what we want, and being treated the way we feel we should), and connection — love. These basic needs are so fundamental to our emotional and physical survival that they subconsciously control much of our behavior, priorities, and even compulsions.

An experience of loss, as in, the loss of the critical and precious contact with our essence, the loss felt when we are not loved, the suffering induced when lose contact with our capacity for presence, a disconnection from the semblance of unity, all of these examples are then expressed as an inner emptiness. Dr. Bill Schafer devoted much of his work to infants, showing that we are born in presence (the sense of self, our dignity and worthiness), joy (certainty/security to explore), and shared awareness (love/connection). This original essence state goes into the background (more or less) as a result of personality formation. It seems a structure of the human condition to reactively and adaptively go away from essence in response to the environment and its stressors. That said, essence is not what goes away from us. Reclaiming our essence, the higher qualities of our essential being, leads to accessing the essential divine self, which brings forth such things as essential generosity, mutual sharing, and the end to greed.

Power and control as substitutes, as ways of dealing with, the experience and/or threat of outer and inner emptiness

Power and Control replace the loss of connection to love, and our essence, that which has led us to a sense of scarcity. Wealth/Power/Control come then to equal happiness. Greed then follows the pleasure principle; it’s consummation feels good. The “will to power” equal “growth and durability,” according to Nietzsche. Will to power has driven much of survival behavior. The greater, essential will goes into the background and is replaced by the will to power. The will to power through violence has been “the final arbitrator,” as is expressed by the Durants in The Lessons of History. But in this nuclear and technological era, this strategy becomes obsolete. We are “prenuclear-age man in the nuclear age.” As Jerome Frank put it…

“All primates get greedy to: (1) provide safety and security; (2) protect their young; (3) assure resources and defend territory; and (4) maintain dominance and social order. Power, dominance, and control (PDC) actually often mean getting what you want and believe you need for survival and a satisfying life. The power of will can even give us a sense of identity.”

There is a spectrum of will from the greater will, with full choice to the will to power, from no will to negative will to positive will. Anger fuels will as it occurs with the subjective experience of personal violation, of not getting what we deem supports our well-being. Levels of will are associated with levels of knowing. Will can be a transformer as it involves intention, choice, and energy. Survival and higher will are now necessary for survival, a 180-degree reversal from earlier times.

Role of Death-anxiety, Denial of Death

Earnest Becker’s work on the denial of death or “terror of death” states that a fear of death leads to a denial of death, which leads to internalized compliance to culture, what he named the “symbolic protector.” He believed that this compliance to culture leads to the belief in immortality (the ultimate rescuer) and to specialness and invincibility. In turn, these connect (1) to the belief in our own society’s immortality and hence to greed, holy wars, and genocide, wherein others are children of a lesser or false “God,” and; (2) to the belief in specialness and invincibility and hence to destructive, violent acts, wherein others are lesser beings, unimportant. Lastly, all of this can result in, yes, destructive acts of heroism and to elevations of greed.

These same themes of a belief in immortality and the ultimate rescuer and invincibility or specialness are also embedded in all four of the great existential issues and the parallel issues of spiritual pain, that which contributes to greed, as these are “remedied” by the ultimate rescuer and invincibility: death anxiety versus life (gaining security though driven by fear when not having it); isolation versus connection (gaining love though driven by distress when not having it); groundlessness versus groundedness (gaining worthiness/dignity though driven by anger when not having it); and meaningless versus meaning (gaining meaning though driven by despair when not having it). Thus, greed has powerful motivators, those which sit at the root of human personality structure and adaptive strategies for our very survival.

Societal Themes/Issues: Dangers of Greed

Greed is first among the seven deadlies. Greed turns love into lust, leisure into sloth, hunger into gluttony, honor into pride, righteous indignation into anger, and admiration into envy. If it weren’t for greed, we’d suffer fewer of the other “vices” as expressed in the book Wicked Pleasures. Here is what I call the greed sequence: need – desire – intense desire – greed. Greed results in “consumptivity;” there is never enough: “I shop therefore I am.”

Greed is at the core of cultural collapse. Jared Diamond in his book Collapse proposes a five-factor model: (1) exploitation and depletion of the environment (e.g., deforestation, soil depletion, depletion of wild species and energy resources, water contamination and general environmental pollution, population increase and their environmental impact); (2) climate change (e.g., drought, now global warming); (3) warring neighbors (e.g., scarcity of resources, depletion of dominant group); (4) decreased support of friendly neighbors (e.g., scarcity of neighboring resources, weakening of trade partners); and (5) society’s response to ecological problems (e.g. continued exploitation of resources, warfare). Increasing polarity of wealth and poverty result from greed, paradoxically destroying economic well-being.

Some current forms of greed: (1) cheap credit characterized by low interest rates, leading to excessive spending; (2) leveraging money at 30:1 as in the derivatives market, which allows for even less reserves than those required of the gambling industry; (3) home purchase with no capital and low initial interest loans; (4) no adherence to “short-term pain for long-term gain;” (5) lack of economic oversight, the “watchdog to lapdog” mentality; (6) excesses of Wall Street manifested in huge multimillion dollar bonuses/salaries (e.g., Richard Fuld, Jr. of Lehman Brothers who received hundreds of millions of dollars in pay while the company was collapsing); and (7) the myriad of exploitations of third world countries in terms of cheap labor and poor working conditions.

Positive Values of Greed and Avarice: The Case for Greed

Greater economics and growth lead to greater prosperity. Free trade combined with greed did lead to lifting over 400 million out of poverty in the last 25 years worldwide.

“Greed is good.” as in the portrayal of Gordon Gekko by Michael Douglas in the movie “Wall Street.” Everything good has been created by individual enterprise.

A philosophy of objectivism of individual rights, free enterprise, property rights, and pursuing one’s own happiness all support the positive notion of greed. Objectivism holds that:

    • reality exists independent of consciousness;
    • that individual persons are in contact with this reality through sensory perception;
    • that human beings can gain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive and deductive logic;
    • that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness or rational self-interest;
    • that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in pure laissez-faire capitalism.

Relationship to Levels of Development

Levels of personal development can be simplified into four basic levels:

    1. ego centric/selfish (pre-conventional)
    2. ethnocentric/care (conventional)
    3. world centric/universal care (post-conventional)
    4. universe centric/integrated masculine and feminine (integral)

At the lower levels, there is little concern for, nor inclusion of others’ well-being. Each of the four stages involves higher levels of care and compassion.

Gender Effects

Without considering the various Enneagram types and their energetic qualities, we may explore that males tend to manifest a theme of autonomy, lawfulness, and justice and females a theme of care, responsibility, and relationship. Men may lean more toward agency and rules and women toward communion and connection. Of course, this can result in possibly outdated stereotyping. Yet, this may also incline certain men toward greater greed.

Hormones too affect greed. Women produce much more estrogen as well as more oxytocin and dopamine, all of which lead to more experienced pleasure, social bonding, drive for intimacy, and stress reduction. Men produce much more testosterone (women do produce testosterone as well, but not as much in most cases), leading to more aggressive tendencies. Also, it’s been written that men are more left-brain dominant, resulting in more positive emotion and linear thinking. Women have been stated to be more right-brain dominant, resulting in more emotional sensitivity and processing of conflict. These differences may also incline men to more greed.

Process for Healing

We all have a natural capacity to split away from essence, that original essence that’s very visible in an infant’s presence, shared awareness, and joy. We feel the “loss” of its inside of ourselves, although it’s not actually “lost,” it’s simply gone into the background.

The process of reclaiming our higher qualities of essence is embedded in the Universal Growth Process (UGP) of the 5As of Awareness, Acceptance, Appreciation, Action, and Adherence.

The goal is integration, which is the linkage of differentiated parts, so that our personality and our higher qualities, along with grounded presence and openheartedness, are all current and integrated.

The qualities of being that we can attain as a result of practice, of mindfulness and personal development, is what Dr. Dan Siegel has aptly called F.A.C.E.S.:

    • Flexibility
    • Adaptability
    • Coherence
    • Freed-up Energy
    • Stability

With mindfulness practice and a personal development path, we can become our own best friend, opening ourselves to living love each day from a place of grounded presence, self-and other-acceptance, and a connection to our own inherent capacity for joy.

In this nuclear and technological age, generosity rather than greed, is necessary for survival. Generosity is a form of higher will, higher than that of power and control, when combined with love, it this combination that leads to a life fully lived.