Most lower-middle-class Indian men have a third parent — money. We respect it, idolize it and tragically, love it unconditionally to the end, just like the other two.
So many men are bred to chase money. This is not entirely bad, and I’ll be the first to admit that it has served the nation well in many ways. The advancement of the Indian middle-class within the last two generations is laudable. The work ethic it has fostered is admirable.
My issue is not with the progress money brings but rather with how we have made money the sole measure of men. When we load men with just one identity, of a Provider – and make money the solo mechanism to attain it, we set them up to break, because there’s no point at which they can stop chasing money – there’s always more that can be provided (especially in this day and age), and to stop doing so is to often fail as a man. Everything else then, like being empathetic, caring for their own mental health or finding joy in life becomes a distraction.
I’ll die on the hill that more men than women define their self-worth by their monetary worth. This is certainly a privilege, in many ways, because money is equitable to agency, but to say that money just provides, and not robs us of certain joys of life would be a huge mistake.
You cannot have the ying without the yang. Money gives, but it most definitely takes away as well. When the ‘more’ is unattainable, or more precisely ‘defined by someone else, it leads many men into a blind pursuit, like dogs chasing cars. I’d wager that men are ‘blind’ in that they don’t realize that more money does not necessarily mean a more fulfilling life.
This masculine money-chase is the hallmark of the Indian middle-class and does nothing but prop up systems that have enabled it – capitalism and patriarchy – which keep money, control, and providership in the hands of a relatively few, privileged men. It keeps the majority of men in both an identity-loop and an effort-chase loop. Men get caught in the effort-chase loop as they seldom achieve ‘enough’ money, and this in turn traps them in the identity-loop of ‘are we good enough providers and human beings?’
Continually running after more money without conscious thought results in various well identified problems. Several studies show the link between money and poor mental health. In Australia, nearly 20% of male suicides are linked to financial stress. The Atlantic recently published an essay titled, “Does Wealth Rob the Brain of Compassion?” and concludes that it makes you less empathetic. Many argue that this lack of empathy is being globally witnessed and has led to the rise of populist and nationalist male leaders (and followers) across the world. They believe that narcissistic behavior and low empathy is running rampant amongst men.
If providing money is your only mechanism to define yourself, and ‘enough money’ is unattainable as the goal posts keep changing, depression and mental health problems are bound to ensue. The issue of men’s mental health in India will be louder in our generation than our parents. They had their own perils but they were the generation who suffered silently. We might not be so fortunate, as tools like the internet will stream and etch every story out loud as a hallmark of our generation.
I grew up with the message that money is the end-all be-all of human life, especially male existence - it is our duty to provide. Growing up, I saw boys constantly getting programmed with this philosophy. I don’t think it was ill-intentioned but I realize that it was inadequate, and it has not equipped men to guard against its negative effects.
Personally, beyond a certain point, money only offers me envy. Indeed, money brings safety/stability but I have noticed that when I am not mindful in my pursuit of it, there are many days when the idea of money brings me nothing but envy. Envy is an uncomfortable feeling, and it rattles you if you are not careful. When I feel envy, I often get a strong urge to act. This is also a very male response. We are trained providers of not just money but also of solutions, of order amidst all the chaos. That is how, after all, we understand masculinity. Merely sitting with emotions is failure. Unfortunately, boys are seldom taught healthy ways to deal with all this.
Men’s relationship with money is complex. Money can be an effective tool to live the lives we want or it can be a tyrant ruler of our own making. We have the freedom to choose.