Banking on What?

By Aaron Williamson

There is a short column in the January 2016 edition of Scientific American that provides some fascinating reflections which can contribute to the mutual benefit of science and faith.  The column from the psychology section is entitled "Frictionless Finance: Nothing Sticks On a Banker - Not Even His Or Her Identity" by Shannon Hall.  The column draws attention to research suggesting that senior investment bankers have disassociated their work from their own identity.  What does this mean? Whereas many of us seek to find fulfillment in our work and careers, such does not appear to be the case for investment bankers.  Hall states that, “They disassociate their sense of self so severely from their work that researches have coined a new term for the phenomenon: 'telephonic identity maneuvering.'”  This study involved following six London- based investment bankers for over two years and conducted extensive interviews with them. 

We often see investment bankers as the epitome of the capitalist, and blame them for many of our economic woes. Numerous film and television shows glorify the businessmen living in worlds of high finance and luxury.  These characters are often portrayed as self-assured individuals who have their whole identity wrapped up in their work.  At least for the investment banker, this study criticizes the truth of that narrative.  Hall notes that according to the journal Organizational Studies, this identity disassociation may be due to the high demands of the banking world.  She goes on to say that, “the minimization of self could serve as a coping mechanism.  The participants justified this psychological detachment by the amount of money they made.”  Others worry about the long term effects of this disassociation on the lives of these individuals, which makes them more prone to drug abuse, negative health outcomes, and family breakdown.  Perhaps bankers are people too.

Though the problems of investment bankers seem remote from the everyday problems that many of us face, these issues concern all of us.  Interesting questions arise regarding the system that created this type of disassociation and our contribution to it.  While the wage worker often feels a detachment between their job and self identity, these same issues affect those at the top.  Perhaps many of them feel devalued and enslaved as well?  In the process they are sacrificing their own identities in order to provide the kind of high income that our society worships.  Proverbs 22:2 says, “The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is maker of them all.”  Science has helped people of faith to recognize that we are all connected to each other from another angle.  When someone suffers we all suffer as a result, the rich and the poor alike, for we are all one in common humanity.  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and no female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). 

God eradicated all barriers in and through Christ, including economic ones.  Karl Marx questioned a system where individuals became simply economic units that were only valued for what they could produce.  Unfortunately, our society is becoming increasingly contractual, making minimum wage workers feel abandoned by it.  However, this contractual motif is even affecting those on the top.  Both the rich and the poor are having to live in two worlds, where they sell their labor for the benefit of greed and consumption, and are losing their souls in the process.  In what other ways do we live in two worlds? Can this research tell us anything about other kinds of workers?

While the poor may feel that life would be better if they only had more money, this research seems to counter that thinking.  It is natural for all of us to desire enough resources and economic security to sustain life and health.  However, our true security can only come from God.   As 1 Timothy 6:17 says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”  Even though the scripture doesn't condemn wealth, it certainly provides a strict warning about what we re to do with it.  This time, look at 1 Timothy 6:18-19: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”  While the bible teaches the dangers of putting all your faith in money and influence, this research helps to show the psychological and social implications.

We should think carefully upon what we value intrinsically, and where our self identity and worth comes from.  While it may seem futile to attempt to rise above the American Dream, the Bible makes clear that true satisfaction and identity can never be fully achieved solely based on our economic status.  We were created to be holistic individuals, and not divided souls.  This may have vast psychological and social implication.  We who sacrifice so much time, energy, resources, health, and even our families to achieve a better standard of living, may have to reevaluate what we are looking for.  On the other hand, those who live on the top, may need to reevaluate their priorities and whether they contribute to the happiness of others.  God calls us to love our fellow man, and to treat others as we would want to be treated.  Science is helping to shed light on the holistic nature of the human identity, and how much we need each other, while faith helps us think through some of these deep questions of self identity.  If we thank God for all the blessings in our lives and look for ways to bring blessings to others, all humanity will benefit as a result

[Sub Cash Register photo by Franck Blais