How do you define greed? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as "a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed."
Since I doubt that anyone would describe themselves this way, greed (as with beauty) must be in the eyes of the beholder.
Would Scrooge characterize himself as greedy, even though Charles Dickens's entire story was about his lust for money? No, it's likely that he would have justified every shilling as absolutely necessary.
What has me thinking about greed is a circumstance that a childhood friend of mine now finds herself in.
My friend's mother passed away this summer after a long fight with cancer. My friend is now seeking legal advice after finding out that her only sibling, an older sister, took advantage of the situation and now controls all of the assets for the sizeable estate.
The sister and her husband have good jobs and a nice new home (as well as some income properties). My friend, on the other hand, has always struggled financially. She barely graduated from high school due to learning disabilities, works part-time and lives in government subsidized housing.
I give these details to explain why I am so confounded by the notion of greed. Knowing all of the details of my friend's situation, I would not hesitate to call her sister greedy. I'm sure she would not agree with my assessment.
So, when is enough, enough? As a kid, $20 was more money than I needed, but not more than I wanted. Now that I'm an adult, married with children who want to go to college, a million dollars doesn't seem excessive. But is it?
The United States is one of the richest countries on Earth and home to the most billionaires in the world. That's billion with a 'B.' Among them are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Are these men greedy? Some might say that they are, but others would argue that their philanthropy evens the scales.
Unquestionably, we're in this current economic nightmare because of greed — greed for money and greed for power, greed on the part of mortgage lenders who lent money to unqualified borrowers, politicians who listened to lobbyists instead of their constituents, and corporate executives who drew obscene salaries while laying off employees and outsourcing jobs.
Too often they acted like Gordon Gecko, the villainous trader from the movie "Wall Street," who stated, "Greed works. Greed is good."
There's a reason that greed is one of the seven deadly sins. It's all about getting ahead at the expense of others.
Greedy people, like my friend's sister, feel like everything is for them and somehow they are entitled to it all. Maybe it starts in childhood, or maybe it's just innate. Either way, we all pay for the greed of others.
Here in the Crescenta Valley, we've had more than our share of greedy developers who bent the rules to the point of breaking them in order to maximize their profits. It didn't matter to them the cost to the neighbors or the larger community.
Mahatma Ghandi said it best, "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed."
SHARON RAGHAVACHARY is on the steering committee for Crescenta Valley Community Assn. and a member of the Family Advisory Council for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.