Betterism

Victo Ngai

“The pursuant search for better
perhaps better is there here within our orchestra, hum along,
dainty it may be, our entrapment may be,
our search for the better me.

Growth is essential as water for humanity,
our brain ingrained in grasses greener, sunsets brighter, smiles, wider,
perhaps as a breed we are meant for the better,
the meter stick of which, is a subject for philosophers”-
Anna Rozwadowska


Our incessant drive to be better is nothing short of a miracle of human nature; but also an entrapment of the highest kind. Our brains are hardwired to strive, to become, to attain, to do better in all ways, since the beginning of our days. And, if it wasn’t for this remarkable ingenuity of the human brain, we would never have achieved some of the most revolutionary advancements of modern day and age.

However, as we realize at some point in our lives, there is a tipping point; a fine line where achievement and the striving towards becoming better becomes detrimental, whether that be for our health, family, friends, colleagues, even society as a whole. It is this realization that does not appear in educational manuals, nor in commonplace conversation, and most likely, not even a topic that is discussed in our homes. And this is a fallacy of the mentality of modern age.


As Edward de Bono, author, inventor and physician wisely stated in the quote below (taken from “Spiritual Success: Wisdom for the Boardroom and Beyond” by Kapoor & Kapoor), “it is more important to be flexible and open to various possibilities, than to be bright and right at high cost.

In other words, the quest to ‘better’ the self should not make us rigid, incalculable, and most definitely, it should not come as a high cost to the self.

Flexibility requires accepting that our plans for the future, that our ‘better self’ may not necessarily be situated in the framing of the mind (for example achievement of a better paying position); rather, that ‘better’ may mean the abandonment of what we thought would be and acceptance of what is. In this fashion, we may have to find a way to better ourselves within any given circumstance, especially if it means a return to focus on a better self; whatever that may mean to you.


Theoretically, we are meant to grow as human beings, and, to strive for more; which may be interpreted as wanting ‘better’ for the self. “The grass is greener on the other side?” yes? Unfortunately, this desire for a better self has morphed from truly benefitting us through personal growth and achievement, to societal structures and conditioning that have taught us that better, is better; even at the expense of another.


Yet, who really gets to define what better is? And, who gets to say that our striving towards ‘better’ is something else than what we define for ourselves?

I believe that the turning point of ‘betterism’ was the Industrial Revolution.

Ever since, striving, achieving and ‘betterism’ have defined humanity. This is by no means a bad thing; humanity thrives on better ideas, better ways of doing, problem solving, lessons learned and more. We are evolving as humans through ‘betterism.’ Yet, we have to be careful, that in our quest to do better and become better, we do not sacrifice our humanity, our sense of self and our sense of worth. These are especially prevalent in our society today; comparisons to other who have done ‘better’ can be extremely detrimental to oneself.


Although he was referring to wealth in his book “The Way to Wealth,” (Leavitt, Trow & Company, 1848), Benjamin Franklin’s quote stating: “Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship,” can be applied to our search to be better, and attain more in the process of living. Franklin is urging us to be careful of small slips; as they can become a sinking ship rather quickly.

In the same way, small slips of character in the search for ‘better,’ can lead to a detriment in our self, our character, and our priorities in life.

White lies used to get ahead or to appease someone may turn into an unhealthy lifelong habit.


Our search for becoming better, if not steered properly, can become a sinking ship.

While the concept of ‘betterism’ may be a by-product of our lifelong learning from others, it is ultimately up to us to define what better means, for us. The 21 Century has seen a shift, a collective movement in personal growth, self-help, self-improvement and self-care. However, we have also been prodded to examine our role in society at large, and how we can influence the disparities and injustice that is commonplace in our world, in a better way. Therefore, the ego- ‘better’ moves towards a collective- ‘better;’ one feeding off the other. In the last decade, there has been a push towards looking beyond ourselves to helping others, and in return becoming a ‘better’ person.

Quotesgram.com

At the same time, entrepreneurship and striving towards self-sufficiency and making our lives better by our own means, has peaked. Hence, ‘betterism’ can and does mean multiple things to many people, and it is important to realize that not one definition is correct, just as one viewpoint is incorrect. Who is one to judge that achieving a six figure salary is better than helping to feed to homeless, or, even learning how to love yourself in an environment that thrives on competition and the presence of meaninglessness, violence, and moral dilemmas.


There has never been a better time to re-examine our concept of what ‘better’ means to us. This is a part of the self-discovery process, which, given the demands of modern day society, is hard to find time for. We do, but why? We strive, but why? Why are we doing what we are doing? These are all very important questions.

And, if there was ever a time for self-discovery; journeying into one’s story, understanding the why and what of ‘betterism,’ it is now.

Anna Rozwadowska 2019