The first installment of the 7 Spins on 7 Sins guest blog series features the sin of Greed. Greed is defined as the strong desire to gain, especially in money or power. It can also be about scavenging or hoarding of material or objects, or of thievery. It's a sin that ignores the spiritual realm. This week's offering, "The Hollow Pie" digs deeper into how greed can manifest and how it affects the spirit and mind. Thanks to Kristen Rybandt for her fantastic take on Greed. - PS
The Hollow Pie
My brother used to get his haircut at a tiny barber shop trapped in time. The two barbers were brothers with Greek accents and thick heads of wavy hair, one with matching mustache. While my brother got his $5 haircut, I sat in the back on a red vinyl chair with one small cut in the seat like a stab wound and always went for the same dated collection of stories about what happens to children when they make poor choices.
My favorite story was called The Hollow Pie. It was about a boy named Robert who always picked the biggest and best looking treats for himself, bringing great shame to his family and forcing them to collude in what can only be the cruelest prank to pull on a child with a sweet tooth. Robert's aunt invited them all over for dinner one night and sabotaged the biggest and best looking treats so that when Robert once again went for those, he bit into a hollow mini-pie, a bitter cupcake and two horrible tasting (poisoned?) chocolates. Everyone else had a wonderful meal because 1) apparently this meal was 100% dessert and 2) they had saved the best looking but sham treats for someone else, in this case Robert. The moral of the story is clear: don’t be such a greedy pig, Robert. Also, find a less deceitful family.
I wonder why this story, one of two dozen in an over-the-top preachy book, haunted me all these years. Was it the glaring injustice poor Robert suffered alongside gratuitous illustrations of desserts? Was it the possibility that I could have been born into a family, however deceitful, that recognized dessert as a meal? Or could it be that I was a lot like Robert, always eyeing up the biggest pie with a plan to get it on my own plate? Wasn’t everybody doing that?
Greed, not to be confused with gluttony, is not simply eating too much dessert, but making sure no one else gets it. When we’re greedy, we go after something at the expense of others. We don’t consider other people’s needs and an even distribution of supplies. It’s every man for him or herself and can extend beyond food and money or other material possessions. We can be greedy for power and status, for accolades and attention. When we feed greed in one area of our lives, it often encroaches on another. Greed spreads like a disease.
The thing I know about greed is it’s as hollow as Robert’s pie. When I feed greed – the biggest dessert, let’s say, or posting something online in search of a generous handful of likes – I’ll expect the same or more next time. If I have to settle for less of something, it’s a disappointing blow. How could it be that less of something feels worse than not having it at all? Greed is a dark and bottomless pit, always hungry and never satisfied because someone else always has more than me. Greed tells me I deserve more. The thing is it it never stops telling me that.
When I start noticing those less than feelings, which is usually directly related to how much time I’m spending online, and probably not coincidentally, that’s my cue to take a break. I may or may not actually retreat into my quite-enough real world brimming with work and other responsibilities, plus real live people to spend time with and dote on. Unplugging is probably the best long term antidote to feeling greedy for attention, validation, status or whatever else I’m looking for online. I just struggle with this because I also find a lot of connection and joy online. It feels like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I’d rather find a healthier balance, and that’s where changing my focus comes in.
The only other way I know to squash greed besides starving it is by feeding someone else. In The Hollow Pie story, Robert’s brother Charlie advises “I think if I were you, I’d leave the biggest and best looking things for somebody else next time.” Let’s forget for a minute that Charlie was in on the whole trick and ask ourselves what would happen if we did pick the smaller, lesser-seeming item or skip it altogether? Would we starve? No, we would not. Would another pie or opportunity come along, eventually? Yes, we could count on it. How would we feel if someone we care about or even dislike were to get that best-looking thing instead? It might smart a little or we might see them happy and feel a sense of selflessness and love. In not feeding our own bottomless greed, we have the opportunity to nourish ourselves and others with something deeper and more meaningful.
The old barber shop is still there, by the way, and it looks exactly the same from the outside. Sometimes I get the urge to stop in and see if they still have the book with The Hollow Pie, but I actually found a paperback version of it a few years ago and bought it. Collecting or hoarding can be another symptom of greed, but in this case I'm sharing Robert's cautionary tale with you, minus the trickery and hollow pies.
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