Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Life's Four Corrupting Influences

I have thought for a long time about the question "what motivates people?" What causes people to become corrupt, immoral or even criminal? I have thought about the question in an attempt to come up with a kind of "string theory" that would explain it all. This is what I have come up with:

The four corrupting influences in a person's life are:

1. Money;
2. Power;
3. Sex; and
4. Vanity

Everyone is susceptible to different corrupting influences. For instance: a movie star would be more vulnerable to the corruption of Vanity (fame) but might not be so prone to temptations of power. On the other hand, a politician is very vulnerable to the trappings of power, but perhaps not as much from the other three. A CEO of a company may be very susceptible to the allure of money, but may not be all that desirous of Vanity.

The real conundrum is that, the way I see it, one cannot have lived a successful, happy life unless one has a little bit of success in each of these areas. If someone, however, gets too much of any one of these, they will live a life that is out of balance. The old saying "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" can be applied to the other corrupting influences as well. Absolute money corrupts (think Enron's "Smartest Guys in the Room"), absolute sex corrupts (think pornography and obsession with sex) and absolute fame corrupts (think of figures who become obsessed with their own fame).

The question is: how to control these base desires to lead a balanced life? How do we keep the engine from driving the car?

There is a famous saying among lawyers and accountants: "all great wealth starts with a crime." It is not literally true, but it is true enough. The excessive desire for money can lead to the compromise of principles. Paul's statement in the New Testament about "the love of money is the root of all evil" is too narrow. The obsession with obtaining wealth is the root of all financial evils. The obsession with attaining power is a root of evil, too -- just look at how many elected or appointed government officials get caught up in scandals while in office. So is obsession with sex. So is obsession with attaining popularity and fame.

Our desire for each of the corrupting influences can be our ruin. The biblical admonition to "train up a child in the way he should go" is really just a command to teach self-control over each of these forces.

Are there any corrupting influences that I missed?

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