Saturday, 29 September 2012

Broadening our definition of success

Success measured solely by physical metrics and symbols like the car you drive, the size of your house, your formal qualification and business title provides an incomplete yardstick to measure human achievement against.  Such success seldom spreads beyond yourself and your immediate family.

Achievement should also be measured by the way one applies their intelligence and empathy for the betterment of society and the planet.  It's about the things you don't always see: the lives you change and the joy you spread.  When you contribute in a small way to making the whole world better, then surely that needs to be included in our understanding of success.  Being outwardly successful therefore, while nothing sinful, has limited meaning.  What is sinful is the way we as a society measure it almost solely by these outward indicators.  Someone selflessly giving is usually referred to as "a good person", but they're never called successful, yet their effect on society can be more profound than that of a sports star or actor.

Applying your mind and labor to enrich yourself no doubt makes you successful - especially if you came from adversity - but it is a narrow definition of the word nonetheless.  Using some of your intellect, labor or financial resources for the common good shows a degree of intelligence, because no man is an island and any smart person knows that personal success cannot go unabated if millions of others are suffering.  And it shows empathy because empathetic people realize that many are born with short straws in life through no doing of their own.

A person who applies themselves in such away is logically (not subjectively) more successful than one focussed solely on self-enrichment, because they're making the world better for more people.  Until our definition of success broadens to include your effect on the rest of society, we will remain a polarized, suffering breed.

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