Measuring Success

the ‘Great Equalizer’ weighs in

A major problem with success is that it’s often defined by others.

In the US, it’s ‘The American Dream’, but regardless of our geography we are all subjected to an onslaught of unseen forces defining even our very dreams.

Our indoctrination starts early, in childhood, and forms a relentless set of messages. The outcomes are obvious: if I don’t measure up to these externally determined definitions than I become prone to some sort of failure.

When we examine these brute-force, world-class narratives it can become disturbing because we start to not only realize their prevalence but their power of absorbancy. Sometimes we end up discovering that there’s a bigger set of influences affecting our lives than we had ever imagined.

These powerfully impermeable stories are so well-woven that we hardly notice them silently oozing their way under our skin. When a U.S president implores us to “go shopping” and to even spend ourselves into debt — and we do — that’s a sign of the effectiveness of mass programming.

“Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” — George W. Bush, September 27, 2001

‘Us versus Them’ is not egalitarian

In a sense, I’m personally not much more than a construction worker. I started my career as a construction worker and even today I consult in the industry. That label of ‘construction worker‘, which I used here as a subtle self-disparagement, is an example of the programming success that creates the division of classes. It stirs up the us versus them mentality and the whole notion of the elites being somehow remarkably better human beings than the rest of the crowd.

When we, as a society, force these narratives and ‘dreams’ on each other, it places us under intense pressure to conform. Obviously if you’re a non-conformist, that can spell trouble by swimming against the tide. But beyond the deliberate heretic, a more vexing issue emerges: not having sufficient income or resources to pursue the goals and dreams that society insists are the things that make you worthy.

Societies are not structured to be inclusive. This is the hard truth. Life, even in the first world, can be far from egalitarian. And the trends are irrefutable.

2019 Update: The top 1% now own 50.1% of the world’s wealth, up from 45.5% in 2001. More than half of the $16.7 trillion in new wealth was in the U.S., which grew $8.5 trillion richer. — USAToday

Update 10/16/19: “Wealthy people own a disproportionate share of stocks. A 2017 paper by New York University economist Edward Wolff found that the top 10% of households owned 84% of stocks in 2016.” — CNN

The great equalizer weighs in

And then there’s death. Death, unremittingly striking whether we are elite or whether we live on the ‘other side of the tracks’.

I find myself wondering how well prepared we are, as societies and as individuals, for this brutal truth. Of course, we all have at least a faint background acknowledgment that we will die. Some of us hedge our bets and get ‘born again’ never stopping to consider that the actual phrase may be implying something else altogether. Some of us leverage death’s inevitability to fuel a desire accumulate as much as we can grab. After all, for the takers and land grabbers, why does selfishness and instant gratification matter in the forlorn scheme of things?

Can the ‘great equalizer’ somehow better equalize us?

Were we to face death more squarely — as societies, as businesses, as individuals — would we perhaps somehow reorder our priorities in the world? Would the ‘great equalizer’ somehow better equalize us? Would a more open conversation with death counter-intuitively help create a more balanced world?

There’s really no choice

The conversation will inevitably take place. We can either talk to death on our own terms or on its terms. Some kind of accounting is certain to occur, because Nature always demands balance. And societies are ultimately servants of Nature.

Millions of young people will “storm the Bastille” if we don’t fix income inequality, 2020 candidate Marianne Williamson says. If capitalism and its wealthiest winners do not “reclaim some sort of ethical core,” she predicted, then “chaos ensues.”

“There is no amount of money that can protect any of us, or our children, from what will happen in this country if total chaos erupts,” Williamson said. “And a large part of avoiding that scenario is righting the ship economically … this is unsustainable.” — Vox



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Mark Walter

Construction worker and philosopher: “When I forget my ways, I am in The Way”