19 Feb 2022

Talking about money

The subject of money – whether our pay packets, our debts, or the value of our home – was long considered a conversational taboo. Yet at dinner parties across the country, civilised people are comparing their house prices, marvelling at the cost of each other’s cars and revealing their bonuses and salaries. It now seems acceptable to walk into someone’s house, point at something and say, “That sofa’s nice. How much was it?”

Whether in the red or in the black, our bank accounts now seem almost public property; where once an overdraft was a dirty little secret between us and our bank manager, now we feel free to discuss our debts openly, shamelessly. We live in the Age of Information, with transparency as the new buzzword, right down to colour-coded credit cards that blazon the bearer’s wealth.

We are fascinated by the power of money, by its capacity to buy influence, status and prestige. We faithfully follow the antics of the super-rich, ogling their playgrounds – replete with yachts, palaces and casinos – on countless television documentaries. We are equally entertained by the chutzpah, and inevitable downfall, of notoriously greedy hustlers and con artists. We are intrigued by celebrity divorces and lawsuits, our minds boggled by punitive damages and legal costs. Money truly makes our world go round.

But somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten the reasons why discussing money never used to be the done thing – so let’s slow down for a minute and consider. We still live in a world of inequality, with large salaries or rewards conferred arbitrarily on a few while others with equal talents settle for considerably less.

There will always be Joneses to keep up with. So is it not a better, friendlier approach to keep such inequality as under wraps as possible? Bragging about your bonus or musing on your mortgage can make others feel inadequate and heightens the difference between your financial situation and that of the person you are talking to.

Money is the oil which greases the wheels of society but oil is filthy sticky stuff and we should clean our hands of it before coming out in polite society.

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