A disclaimer: I don’t have answers for the hard questions that we run up against in life. Just more questions. But that doesn’t mean I won’t speculate, throw another two cents into the pot. Heck, we’re all in the game of life and we may as well try to have fun. But, please, always remember – our fun should not be the cause of someone else’s sorrow.
Success is one of those hard questions, a nut that’s difficult to crack. Too bad we can’t pick up a mallet and smash the nut to get at the meat. Pretty much everyone wants success but few people take the time to ask themselves how to measure success or what “success” really means – or admit that it’s not the same for everyone.
If we think that success must come out of one pot and that everyone is running after the same limited resource – we have a problem. For then we may think that we have to get there first, stuff our pockets, grab as much as we can, trip the next person on the way out, run home and dump our bootie so that we can get back before this other person takes what should by rights be ours. Or we may start to think that if we don’t have it all, then it’s as if we have nothing.
And there we are, without thinking about it, running after more, bigger, better, whether it’s money, car(s), houses, etc. And if we can’t get more, then we’ll do our best to make sure other people have less, smaller, or worse, so that in comparison we’ll still be at the top of the heap. The underlying premise: Life is a vicious zero-sum game. It’s easy to see how this has fueled the run-up to global warming, pollution, wars, and other horrors.
And this expands in not-so-subtle ways. If I can’t get it, perhaps my “family” can – after all, blood’s thicker than water. My family may not need more now, but we can always hide it somewhere, keep the others from getting any, especially if they don’t speak my language, or have the same skin color, or practice the same religion.
Eventually, it becomes even more important to keep others from sharing in the bounty. People are willing to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, i.e., democracy. Consider what happens when you restrict the vote when you don’t let the “other” participate fully and equally in society. Hitler was an example of that; Stalin was another. The results were not pretty. And millions lost their lives needlessly and the world ended up with less than nothing.
Entertain the idea for a moment that if we help each other achieve and share in the wealth we all come out ahead. If I give all children equal access to education and good nutrition, they can achieve. And, a very selfish thought, on a level playing field, they’re more likely to become successful, have good jobs, pay more taxes, decreasing my share. How many times have we been told that it’s cheaper to send a person to college than keep that same person in jail? And college is a four-year investment while a jail sentence can be significantly longer so society goes on paying and paying.
I learned early on in my commercial career that in order to sell, in order to have a project become successful you needed a “buy-in” by all parties. Civil society is a project where we all are customers. It should be obvious that a prerequisite for any buy-in is the vote. Deny the vote to minorities and you’re seeding thoughts of “Why should I care?” Treating people unequally and with disdain and you’re watering the sprouted plant and fertilizing it. Inequities in your judicial system and you’re optimizing the grow light. And then society reaps what it’s sown and you’ve ended up with the polarization and the violence we see today.
And then there’s never any rest. It’s fight, fight, fight just for our own team. And that comes at a cost. While it may be acceptable in the football stadium it’s become all too easy to take that same attitude home after the game, as for example, the soccer hoodlums in Europe, wreaking havoc after the games and often getting into violent fights. Wear the wrong color scarf and find yourself in the wrong neighborhood and you’re open to violence, especially if you’re different.
Coming back to the question of success – you’ve heard it before. We either all succeed or we all fail. It bears repeating: Either we all succeed or we all fail.
A two-fold job: I need to help myself at the same time I help others. And if I need help, then I need to reach out and ask. It’s there. And often we may find that this is reciprocal – getting and giving help are just two sides of the same coin.
We can all start with the little things – a smile when you meet someone you don’t know. A helping hand wherever you can – yeh, picking up a piece of litter to make this a more pleasant place. Think – someone else may see this random act of kindness and do the same.
That’s one way to measure success – did you make the whole world a better place to live each day?
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at email@example.com.