Very excited to kick off a series of posts from Ted Scofield, author of the novel Eat What You Kill (soon to be a major motion picture from the acclaimed producer of Wall Street, American Psycho and many other films). Ted was a featured speaker at our 2015 Spring Conference in New York City, which is also where he and his wife, artist Christi Scofield, reside. Here comes the introduction:

“Slam Dunk”

I thought I had a slam dunk. No, I knew I had a slam dunk, and I told my editor so.

Two consistent data sets, with tantalizingly disconnected conclusions and implications. I could pump out a couple thousand words in no time, exposing a profound revelation that would rattle the world’s cage and influence the cultural discourse for decades to come. (Well, that may be an exaggeration, but writers should think big, right?)

Clinging to the comfortable cliché that put my novel on the shelves, I packed up my notebook and research materials and walked to my favorite Starbucks.

Before raising the curtain on the mind-boggling data, I thought I would start by defining the key term, greed, just to ensure we were all on the same page.

So … what is greed?

I wanted to be clear that my revelatory piece was about financial greed, the greed for money or, in reality, the stuff that money buys or can buy. Simple enough, right?, a hundred words, this is greed. Then here we go! Prepare to be dazzled, prepare to be enlightened, prepared to be amazed!

And then I couldn’t do it. I could not define greed. Not even close. Not a sentence. Not a damn word.

“The Challenge”

I sat in silence, unable to do what writers do, transform caffeine into words, disheartened yet challenged. How could I pen a “gotcha” essay for the ages on a common concept I could not define? Why could I not define greed?

And then it hit me like a shark on a seal. The data disconnect and definitional difficulty were one in the same, the yin and the yang, the answer to the question.

I emailed my editor: “The bad news is I won’t have a piece for you next week. The good news is I’m on to something far more interesting, far more elaborate, far more exciting.”

And so the quest began, to define greed. Articles, quotes, essays, books, songs, lectures, surveys, ad hoc focus groups, exasperated family and friends fatigued by my obsession. My long-suffering, genius wife.

A thesis surfaced. Or, perhaps, a better term, an anti-thesis emerged, raised carefully like a dusted fingerprint.

I cannot define greed. We, collectively as a nation, as a culture, as a faith, cannot define greed.

More specifically, each of us individually defines greed in such a way that each of us, individually, is not greedy. And as our unique financial situation evolves, so does our unique definition of greed, leaving us forever outside its grasp.

You know the result: Wall Street fat cats are greedy. CEOs are greedy. Politicians are greedy. Lazy welfare freeloaders are greedy. My boss is greedy. My employees are greedy. I, certainly, am not, and how dare you think otherwise!

“What do I win?”

What about me, you ask? Am I, your author, holier than thou?

During my undergraduate years at Vanderbilt University, I had two posters on my walls. The first showed a funeral procession carrying a casket towards a hearse in front of a huge home surrounded by exotic cars and a helicopter. The caption read: “He Who Has The Most Toys When He Dies … Wins.”

The second poster featured a mansion with a five car garage filled with a Ferrari, Jaguar, BMW, Lotus and Porsche, beneath the headline “Justification for Higher Education.”

After working for a few years I returned to Vanderbilt’s law school and business school, the joint degree program, but instead of the posters, I had two actual BMWs, a sedan and a convertible. I moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan after graduating with my eye on the prize: Money.

So I trust it’s evident: “Holier than thou” is not going to be a problem between us.

I hope I’ve evolved in the past fifteen years, in theory if not in practice, but if I have it’s only a matter of degree.

“J’accuse!”

No, the goal of this series is not to make you, or me, feel guilty. The goal is not atonement or a list of excuses. The goal is not to label you as greedy, or anyone else for that matter. If you’re looking for a diatribe against hedge funders or food stampers, you will not find it here in these posts. You can find plenty of “holier than thou” pundits and writers who earn a living demonizing the left or the right or the middle and, hey, if pointing your finger at the other guy helps you sleep at night, this series on greed will most likely induce insomnia.

And that, in one sense, is the goal. I want to keep you up at night, proverbially if not literally, discovering and contemplating what I have since I embarked on this quest, one that has resulted in more questions than answers.

“What’s next?”

Pursuing my holy grail, researching the anti-thesis, I’ve identified eight factors that illuminate why we cannot define greed, and this series will explore each of them in turn, just after we take a look at the data that started me down this path.

Then we’ll revisit the anti-thesis and the issues it raises, and I just may leave you where we began: What is greed?

(If, at that point, you think you know the answer, please, for the love of all things holy, share it with me!)