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Not too long ago, some fellow students and I tutored some elementary students in Phoenix. One day, we asked our students to draw something they cared about. Once finished, the fifth-grader I was with showed me his work. He had drawn a dollar bill.

That young man could have drawn a picture of his family, his home, something involving his religious beliefs or himself. But, no; he chose Benjamin.

Americans have been collectively indoctrinated at the hands of “The Apprentice,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” Fat Joe, Lil Wayne and countless others. But with the recent economic downturn, however, our worship of the dollar has created chaos.

Among other things, familicide and suicide rates have risen incredibly.

Familicide is the sad, usually rare case when a parent (typically the father) kills his children and spouse before attempting to take his own life. There have been five familicides nationally in the past four weeks. Five familicides is usually closer to yearly — not monthly — total for this devastating crime.

Likewise, many individuals either attempted or committed suicide recently, such as the much-publicized suicide of Freddie Mac executive David B. Kellerman. Indeed, suicides rates seem to be rising across the country.

Many experts claim the increasing numbers of familicides and suicides are not directly caused by the failing economy. One such expert, Benjamin Radford from, claims that suicide rates historically decrease during economic depressions.

But if the economy isn’t to blame for the rising suicide and familicide rates, what is? Why have so many men recently committed such terrible acts?

To answer these questions, it’s important to consider the people who committed such devastating acts. As recorded in the New York Post, nearly all of those who committed familicide recently were successful breadwinners facing upheavals. One man, Englishman Christopher Foster, was a former millionaire facing $1.8 million of debt; another, Christopher Wood, owed $450,000 and faced foreclosure of his Florida home; yet another, William Parente, was under investigation for running a Ponzi scheme.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Dr. Louis Schlesinger, a forensic psychologist, offered a possible explanation for why some commit familicide: They fixate on sparing family members from the pain and anguish they would otherwise feel if they were alive.

Why so many men have committed familicide, then, makes sense if we see things through their eyes. They saw themselves as failures and wanted to spare their family members from the unbearable lifestyles they thought would inevitably come without previous levels of wealth.

The belief that significant debt or a meager or nonexistent income is more unbearable than death is entirely false. It would be easy to dismiss such a belief as “crazy,” though. This sort of belief is exactly what we have been trained to believe — that anything but substantial success is failure and failure is entirely unacceptable.

We need to realize that one’s quality of life has little to do with how big our bank accounts are. We need to stop our believing that money fundamentally defines us.

Reach Brett at

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