This week I wanted to talk about murder and accounting. In fact, I want to talk about the oldest murder mystery in our culture. I am talking about the story of Cain and Abel. This story is not only told in the Bible in the Christian and Jewish religions. It is also written in the Quran in Islam. So this is a very influential story throughout the world and there is an important lesson for accounting that a lot of people miss.
The main premise behind the story of Cain and Abel is that they were the two sons of Adam and Eve. In the Bible, Adam and Eve were the first man and woman, and so Cain and Abel were their sons, and would start the line of descendants. Cain was the first born. Abel was the second born. Both sons offered a sacrifice to the Lord. The Lord looked with favor on Abel’s sacrifice, but for Cain’s offering he did not look with favor.
Cain became very angry. He brought his brother out to the fields and murdered him. As punishment for the murder Cain was banished from society.
The obvious lesson from this story is “Do not murder.” This is supposedly the first murder ever in human history, and people did not know what to do or how to respond. This wasn’t just random people who did not know each other. This was not an accident. This was family members who were supposed to love each other. So this story taught people that murder is not an appropriate way to deal with family conflict.
But there is something more nuanced in this story that I want to talk about. I believe this story is also about money. The conflict starts with the religious sacrifices. This story is about religion, power, and money. Even though Cain was the first born, Abel was being accepted for his sacrifice in this religious context. If Abel was being embraced by religion that would give Abel more power in society. You might read these stories today and think, “Why would Cain be so angry? It’s just a sacrifice.” But you have to remember, these are the two sons of Adam and Eve, which also means the question of inheritance is at stake. The reason Cain was so angry was that his younger brother was in a position to take his inheritance for all the rest of humanity. So the motivation behind the murder was greed. Cain wanted the money he thought he was entitled to. He murdered his brother so he could take it.
In the Bible it actually writes out Cain’s thought process of making the decision to murder his brother. And in the Bible, God actually speaks to Cain. He says “if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6) God is telling him not to do it. Don’t kill your brother. I know you have these bad feelings, but you have to overcome them. But Cain does it anyway.
Cain and Abel is really about the thought process behind an ethical decision. Let us talk about business. In any business situation, you usually have two choices. You can make the difficult decision to work hard and build your wealth over long periods of time, or you can take easier decision to lie, cheat, and steal to make money in the short term. Cain wanted money. He thought it would be really easy to just kill Abel and take all of his money. When he could have worked hard, and gained the position in society he wanted by growing his wealth over time.
The problem with the unethical choice is society will kick you out. One way or another, the truth will come out, and you will pay the price for your actions. Unethical behavior is bad for society and it is bad for business. We have created a very detailed set of laws to punish unethical behavior. So if you are in a business situation and you want to make money and you think, “Well maybe I can just use the company credit card to buy myself some things” or “Maybe I can just tell a little white lie to our investors” or “Maybe I can just bend the law a little bit”, you need to recognize the ethical problem. You will have a little voice in your head telling you “Don’t do it.” You need to learn to listen to that voice. Decide to take the harder decision to build your wealth through hard work over time, rather than take an easy solution that breaks the rules.
And that is what accountants in business are for. They are holding people accountable. If you are making a commitment in your financial statements, that is what your business has to do. If you are saying you have so much money in your bank account, that is how much has to be in there. Money is a method for you to communicate the truth about your situation. If you choose to be dishonest about that truth, you will be banished just like Cain in the story of Cain and Abel.
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Neither Zach De Gregorio or Wolves and Finance shall be liable for any damages related to information in this video. It is recommended you contact a CPA in your area for business advice.