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Book Review: The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist

Generating, using, and spending money in a way that is consistent with your deepest values has a healing effect not only on you but on the world.


In the 1970s, when Lynne Twist’s children were young, her husband was a well-paid executive and her family was living the high life. They had a nice house stocked with art and a wine cellar, expensive clothes, a sports car, a nanny, and exotic vacations. Nevertheless, Twist was struck by the contrast between the wealth of her social circle and the poverty of so many others.

Her cosy life broke open after attending some talks by human potential leader Werner Erhard, who had set a 20-year goal for ending world hunger. Twist and her husband decided to re-orient their lives toward causes they believed in, and joined the work of the Hunger Project (established in 1977). Later she became involved in other initiatives such as rainforest protection, indigenous rights, and women’s leadership.

Over four decades, Twist trained over 20,000 fundraisers in 47 countries and raised over $150 million, mostly from individuals. Her work has traversed the Sahel desert in Senegal, villages and slums in India, the Rift valley in Ethiopia, Mayan villages in Guatemala, and the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, as well as affluent countries such Sweden, France, Japan, Canada, the UK, and the US. Along the way she met the likes of Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama, and scientist and futurist Buckminster Fuller became a mentor.

This breadth of experience brought Twist a unique perspective on how people see money around the world. Her chief insight in The Soul of Money is that money isn’t inherently bad or good, but that used wisely it has the power to transform both us and the world.

Money’s hold

Twist lived for a time with the Achuar people, who for thousands of years have lived a rich life in the rainforest with no need for actual money.

It was only when one of them stayed with her in America that she could see, through his eyes, how much of a money culture we live in. We incessantly worry about not having enough money, we define our value as people according to how much we have, we compete with each other for it, and we are addicted to consumption. Money controls us, rather than us controlling it.

It thus affects our relationships, drives wars, and leads to environmental destruction. Twist’s meeting with Mother Teresa shocked her, because she was told that part of her life’s work should be to sympathise with the wealthy, many of whom suffer isolation, mistrust, damaged relationships, and ‘hardening of the heart’.

The myth of scarcity

The root of our problem with money, Twist suggests, is a fallacious mindset of scarcity, the belief that everything is in limited supply – not just money, but material goods, time, rest, exercise, power, and love. This mindset afflicts both rich and poor, and leads to competition, mistrust, exploitation, envy, and a host of other symptoms, including the idea that ceaseless acquisition is the best way to live.

The tragedy of such thinking is that we can never step off the treadmill to appreciate what we have, and we come to value ourselves and others based on external factors rather than inner qualities. Yet Twist asserts that scarcity is a myth, a product of culture. She writes:

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1 comment so far. Why not have your say?

Neal Hightower

Jun 26, 2009 at 03:14

Mother Theresa acquired tens of millions of dollars from contributions during her career, none of which was used to further her mission. What the Vatican Administration has done with these resources is unknown to the Catholic community or the public in general. Answers though have an unusal manner of appearing when a question is asked, even as evidence is for the most part unavailable regarding financial transactions.

Your theory regarding the soul of money presupposes political systems that honor the soul of mankind, which they do not. Instead they exploit all aspects of mankind's consciousness for power, profit, recognition, etc., occasionally throwing scraps off their tables to alleviate guilt. It is and has never been a question of adequate supply of money rather how monetary resources, including property, food, clothing, and all contingencies humans use for survival and pleasure are distributed. For millenniums political systems have endorsed private distribution of resources, failing to halt causes of inanition, as evidenced by 100,000 deaths globally daily by starvation.

As a Christian it is my responsibility to remind the world that God put into motion a process over 2 millenniums ago that can only be resolved by God, and until that time, mankind is likley to continue its tradition of

abstract justification of private ownership of God's resources in lieu of feeding God's people.

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