April fools and others

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

My daughter listened intently on the telephone as I described an outrageous scheme of pulling up the carpet in my dining area and putting in boxes of soil for a garden.

Knowing that I love my potted plants, my daughter said evasively that perhaps I should consult a florist. "But I want a vegetable garden," I exclaimed. There was a long pause, and I imagined she was trying to figure out how to remind her mother that she lived on the fifteenth floor of a high-rise and the garden plan seemed pretty silly. Then I said, "Do you know what date this is?" She quickly saw that she had fallen for an April Fool's trick. But the intensity of her "Oh, thank goodness," surprised me.

My son, guileless, but not gullible, except perhaps when it comes to his mother, for the third year fell for essentially the same joke.

That year I had told him that a friend from South Africa had shared with me the possibility of a great investment in a South African diamond mine. He started stuttering out advice until he realized he'd been tricked. The following April 1, I learned that he had told those who worked with him, "If my mother calls, I'm not here."

We can be susceptible to many kinds of deception – whether it's a close relative's tall tale, as in my case, or the pitch of skilled con-artist or an alluring advertisement that convinces us to buy something we don't need and won't use.

One deception I've become aware of recently is the pull toward greed. There's nothing wrong with improvement and progress, not even in getting more things, but this can make us vulnerable to greed. Today's frequent exposure of excessive executive salaries indicates such vulnerabilities.

A friend who is a CEO said to me recently that it wasn't that the executives were personally greedy, but that they were caught up in corporate greed, as corporations became more interested in profits than in the goods and services they provided. Multimillion-dollar salaries became the much-heralded outcome of this corporate greed. Last year's Business Week's annual survey of executive pay reported that CEOs' pay has skyrocketed by 434 percent since 1991, while the average worker's pay rose by 34 percent. In 2000, the average CEO's salary was 531 times that of the blue-collar worker (Apr. 9, 2001).

A lot of what the executives received was not in cash but in stock options. And that touches on another scandal – executives selling stock while advising others to buy, before their firms declared bankruptcy. The shameful disparity between what individuals receive for a day's work is unconscionable. This year's figures, soon to be released, are expected to show even wider gaps in the pay scale. While governmental steps may be in order, the solution lies in more fundamental reform.

The Bible relates many stories that Christ Jesus told his followers, which illustrate timeless and universal lessons. "And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater .... And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years .... But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou has provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16–21).

Praying to God for guidance and a humble willingness to listen for answers offers essential protection from individual and corporate greed. Such prayers turn us from selfish desires to a larger sense of beneficence, actually making us "rich toward God." Turning away from a limited viewpoint, which is prey to deception by others, and even by ourselves, we find our actions more in line with God's will, with His universal and impartial blessings.

Mary Baker Eddy once wrote, "What a glorious inheritance is given us through the understanding of omnipresent Love! More we cannot ask: more we do not want: more we cannot have" ("Miscellaneous Writings, 1883– 1896," pg. 307). This ever-present Love is the ever-present answer to being tricked by greed.

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