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By Filippa Bolz

My friend asked me this question as we were washing our hands in a restaurant bathroom in London. These few minutes in the bathroom constituted a break from parading the busy shopping streets and discussing where to have dinner, before even having lunch. It was a great weekend. Afterwards, however, this simple question got me thinking. What is the strangest thing one would do for money?

In India there is a surplus of men. Since sons are more profitable to a family, female fetuses are extensively aborted. Being unmarried is considered degrading in Indian society and therefore the “demand” for wives is huge. Consequently, little girls are kidnapped and auctioned off as wives to the highest bidder. As if this was not awful enough, poverty forces parents to sell their daughters. In other words, poverty forces people to perform unthinkable actions — for money.

The distinction between parallel lives is clear: I brainstorm about how much money would convince me to get a tattoo with a motif of my friend’s choice or sleep alone in a barn. Others have to decide if they can live with themselves if they sell their newborn daughter to feed their other children. Evidently, this question is a matter of perspective and context.

A man who has given great thought to such perspectives is Abraham Maslow and the result is his theory of the ’hierarchy of needs’. In (very) short, this hierarchy entails that a person’s needs change once one has lower level needs fulfilled. The most basic ones are physiological needs and safety needs such as food, water, shelter, and health. Then comes love and belonging. The final two steps are esteem and self-actualization. Since my needs are within the highest category, chasing that self-actualization, my thoughts go to tattoos and sky-diving when thinking of answers to the question ‘what is the strangest thing I would do for money?’. However, people whose lives are lived within the two lowest levels of Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ pyramid, have a different take on the question. And, correct me if I am wrong, it is probably different from yours too.

People’s drive for money can lead them onto unintended paths. However, so can beliefs. Beliefs drive people to terrible actions, going as far as terror attacks and suicide bombings. The recent attacks in London and Stockholm have made it evident that radical beliefs are all around. This can also be linked to Maslow’s hierarchy since in their own minds, terrorists are pursuing self-actualization. This leads to another question: how much money would it take to make a person not act on his or her belief? Can money trump an urge triggered by religion and ideals? Or can money trigger actions, but not stop them?

Reading or hearing about people conducting terrible actions always triggers the question: why would one do such a thing? Well, I think that question only has two answers: money or beliefs. Some people are forced or tempted to actions that oppose their belief and ideology because of money. Others are willingly taking them on because of their convictions. The first group might be aware of it being wrong but continue in spite of this. The latter are convinced they are doing something right. Actions triggered by poverty are contextual in such a way that they can be considered unavoidable. Even though they might be wrong and against the law, I think they can be explained and somewhat justified. Actions carried out by people within the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy claiming to chase self-actualization and act upon their beliefs must be held accountable.

To conclude, I think we should all take a moment to ponder the question “what is the strangest thing one would do for money?”. Ask your friends! I am sure you will get some great suggestions that might lead to entertaining experiences. However, let us all consider those who have to decide on that question as a matter of everyday life. And, perhaps even more importantly, let us all ponder how to confront people who do terrible things but believe them to be right.

By Filippa Bolz

Illustration Nora Rennéus

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