Success, Happiness, and Fairness

If you have any connection to your cultural heritage, be it Native American, European, South American, African, Asian, or whatever, chances are you know that your culture values certain things. Many cultures value food, traditions, rituals, or something along those lines. Now what do we, as an American culture or society value? Do we have any truly cultural traditions, or dishes, or rituals? Things that one might say are tradition are more than likely borrowed from another culture, or religion. One thing I do know that our culture values, celebrates, to some extent even worships is: money. Now, this may seem harsh at first glance, but let’s break things down and take a look at them. Take the holiday season for example, this is supposed to be a season of giving, a season of love, and a season of celebration. Sure, all those are included, but are they really at the heart of the season? Walk into any store the week before Thanksgiving, and there are already displays promoting Black Friday, which we all know is a celebration of capitalism and consumerism. At least to me, this doesn’t seem to be promoting love, or celebration in any way. This may promote giving, the giving of our earnings to some corporation without a face, and possibly joy, the short lasted joy that a dopamine rush gives us when our brains acquire new information or objects. This is not giving or joy from the heart, it’s from our pockets, just going into the piggy bank of the big corporations, just so they can repeat the viscous cycle over and over again. They will be completely willing to repeat this cycle as long as we are willing to participate in it.

Let’s take a look at American spending for a moment. According to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics the average American spends $60,060 of their average annual income of $73,573 per year. This is per consumer, and there are millions of consumers in our country. We’re not going to dive into specifics, about what it is we spend this on, but as a nation, we average spending about $164 a day. And that’s just the average American, there are folks out there that are lucky to be able to spend that in a week. The big thing is, we don’t need to spend this absurd amount of money. There are certain expenditures that are more or less unavoidable, depending on your living situations. There are also ways to drastically reduce these expenditures, as well as the harm that we cause our Earth in the process.

It seems that in the typical Western mindset, that one is not successful without monetary wealth. If you don’t have a large house, a shiny car, and lots of money to spend, or lots of fancy things that you bought with said money, then you may not be successful in the eyes of greater society. I know we certainly haven’t achieved this frame of success, although we still consider ourselves and our journey a success of a different caliber. Success is measured not by the amount of income earned, but by one’s moral and ethical code, or at least it should be measured this way. Take Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for example; do you think the Cratchit family considered themselves a success, or more importantly, a complete failure? They might not have had all the money old Scrooge did, but they managed to put a meal on the table, have enough to eat for everyone, and have wonderful family time together. Scrooge on the other hand, may have considered himself a success, but successful people tend to be happy, not only economically successful, but successful in an emotional, spiritual and life perspective as well, and he was definitely not a happy camper. The point I’m trying to make here is that monetary wealth doesn’t necessarily equate to success. Success, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and when one is truly successful by their own terms, it can be a beautiful thing.

One hurdle that some folks may have on the road to success is a prerequisite. Say your lifelong goal and dream is to become a doctor. Your mother was a doctor, her father was a doctor, and you’ve always been raised believing, hoping and working to become a doctor. Well one prerequisite to being a doctor just so happens to be a very costly one; medical school (although chances are if your whole family were doctors, they could cover some of the expenses, but that’s not the point!). If you didn’t have the money for medical school, that’s fine, you could just take out a loan! One prerequisite taken care of there, but then comes the time spent in school, and the interest on the loan. I’m not implying that doctors shouldn’t go to school, or that colleges should be free, the point I’m trying to make is that it is so hard for folks to become successful in this society that we have gotten ourselves locked into. One can learn a great deal from experience and watching an experienced professional, and I guess that’s where residency comes into play in our doctor example, but there should be avenues around the initial prerequisite of paying money to pursue your dreams. After our medical school student graduates, and completes all that is needed to become a doctor, he or she becomes one, and is stuck with the debt and implied interest, and is part of the viscous cycle of paying it off. He or she can’t afford to live—double meaning here, as in they can’t afford to take time to really live their life, can’t afford to stop working, and if they do, then they can’t afford their debt, life expenses, etc.

It seems that the capitalist system, the system of inequitable wealth distribution, and the system of interest on borrowed loans has perfected this cycle. This is how our nation makes money, interest, debt and off the backs of the poor. The capitalists are perfectly happy where they are, and they wouldn’t change a thing. They make their money off of us needing it, and it’s a never ending circle, as long as there are people who need money to pursue their dreams, and as long as we keep taking it. We have to find ways to become successful in our eyes, without making the 1% successful as well. This may take a long time of altering or establishing new education systems, or arranging the system of local and volunteer based economy. Volunteers value something other than money, so why can’t the capitalists? What is needed is a new scope of looking at things, because the one we’re looking through now doesn’t work for anyone—except the ones profiting from it, and that’s not many. There are many, many ways of learning and educating oneself other than the traditional avenues of standardized education. There are many schools with a focus on real world learning (Big Picture Learning being one model), in which students engage in an internship in an area of expertise they may follow in life, and that is counted towards final grades. Wouldn’t it be great if we could adopt a way of life in which we give everyone an equal opportunity to succeed, not based on whether they can afford it or not? Our current system is not by any means perfect, and I don’t have any suggestions or any answers, but I know we can all work to improve and change it to better suit the needs of all of us. We can work it out. We should all be able to strive for our dreams, and reach for our goals, and be truly successful without having to sell ourselves, without being a slave to debt, and without giving up our morals, ethics, and what we truly believe in.

Feel free to share what success is to you, your thoughts on our current money system, or what you feel is needed for us to move forward on this issue! Thanks for reading!

Michael and SchikoyComment