In his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire writes, “This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.”
I have returned to this passage often in the 13+ years since Freire’s teachings came into my life. It has been a lens through which I’ve evaluated myself and the change I’m seeking to make. More recently, I’ve been considering the intersection of oppression and wealth. Ever one to explore the more hidden parts of society, I’m curious what Freire’s model of liberation could look like when it comes to money.
In my work as a money coach, the relief my clients experience when they finally have someone to talk to about their money shame is palpable. Secrets come pouring out and together we step back and examine them more objectively. No longer as close to the bone, my clients are able to find space and new perspectives within their relationship with money. Because money is complex and never just about money.
The complexity of having money is really the complexity of having power and the responsibility that comes with it. It’s common for the folx I work with to want to bypass the burden of that responsibility. They’ll speak about being able to pass money and wealth onto others before they’ve met their own basic financial needs. Money feels dirty to them and so they try and engage with it as little as possible.
Of course, this is understandable. We live in a world where the wealthiest among us wield their money power to perpetuate systemic oppression. Then there are the social pressures that come with money. Despite living in an age where authenticity is celebrated, when folx are open about their finances, the response can be vicious. So we keep our money secrets to ourselves and try to create change without betraying our true financial situation.
When I think about Freire’s words within the context of money and wealth, I see how those of us with just enough power and privilege can use money as a way to liberate ourselves and others as both the oppressed and the oppressors. Although perhaps uncomfortable, it’s not impossible to work with money beyond a good/bad binary. And in doing so, facilitate the creative and financial wellbeing and that will restore our dignity and humanity.
So, what money secrets are in the way of you doing your best work?