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October 24, 2002 The zero-sum game: money



by Hypatia Francis

Money, along with sex, religion and politics, is a subject you’re not supposed to discuss in polite society. Stephen Jenkinson broke that rule on Oct. 10, when he delivered an intriguing meditation on money at Concordia as part of the CBC Montreal Matters series going on all this month.

Jenkinson, author of the book Money and the Soul’s Desires, has a master’s in divinity from Harvard University, and has worked at a variety of trades, including sculptor and therapist. In this talk, he discussed three themes: money and masculinity, money and sex, and money and human kinship.

He began with the traditional notion that men often define themselves by their ability to earn money. Then he turned this notion on its head, making it as much about the generation gap as masculinity, juxtaposing yuppie businessmen with dot-comers, a situation Jenkinson said is problematic. “Ultimately, what we get from that is Enron — insider trading.”

Unique insight on relationships

Jenkinson’s work as a marriage counsellor has given him a unique perspective on marriage. As he said, he has been inside hundreds of marriages, and has seen what doesn’t work. His counselling may also have soured him on marriage, because he lumped marriage and prostitution together as “those places in life where money and sex meet.”

Discussing the role of money in defining kinship and community, Jenkinson began with the idea that the possession of money is a zero-sum game. “If you have some, chances are it’s because someone else doesn’t.”

The practice of usury, or lending money at exorbitant interest, is closely tied to notions of community, and Jenkinson described usury as a way of distinguishing between those who belong and those who do not. Historically, in Europe, money-lending was associated with the Jews, a case of the Christians using the them “to handle what no one else wanted to touch.”

Some in the audience were entranced, but not Maryem Mubareka, a 24-year old Concordia student who recently completed her exams to become a chartered accountant. She said she listened to only part of the broadcast of his lecture the following Sunday on CBC Radio One before tuning out.

Jenkinson himself seemed to take the view that the talk was not meant to provide people with answers. Instead, it was meant to encourage people to think about the role of money in their lives.
Montreal Matters, a collaboration between the CBC, Concordia and Hour, continues all month. For a full schedule of broadcasts and live events, visit the Web site at cbc.ca/montrealmatters.