There is an unfortunate fallacy that plagues people of all ages who have a relatively good life. This fallacy encourages complacency and even apathy. Before we reach this fallacy, we’ll explore a few questions.
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Who is the most capable of changing the world for the better?
The people richest in resources, whether that’s capital, network or time, have the most capacity for affecting change in the world.
We live in a global economy and it is important to look at the globe too. The top 57% (earning $32,400) of the U.S. are actually the top 1% earners in the global economy.
Now, capital isn’t the only input but it is a large component. Donating money to causes outside the US economy can increase the effectiveness of $1 by 10x – 100x.
Who is the most motivated to make their community better off?
Would you imagine that a kid who grew up poor during childhood or a kid who grew up with a comfortable life (not extreme riches, just solid and relatively good) to be more impassioned to change the world?
The poor kid we guess intuitively. Why is this? The poor kid likely has more memories peppered with intense emotions of how bad life can be.
Whether they recount days or years of little daily food, or experienced a household where a single parent was working 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet, a life of poverty is tough and requires a survival mindset to get through it. Conversely, the comfortable kid had access to school, daily meals, snacks, and saw much less struggle.
There are generalities here, of course, but the main point is that a paradox arises. If a kid grows up with little resources, that may form a strong desire to make the world a better place. Without the right amount of luck, resources and good opportunity, they may never be able to fully capitalize on those strong feelings.
If a kid grows up with enough resources and maybe some excess, life is comfortable. They go to college and live out a 40+ year career in relative comfort. If close friends and family live in a similar amount of comfort, there’s not much pressure to expound energy to some grand vision for making the world a better place for all. They have the resources to bring change but not much pressure to do so.
A comfortable life is not to be frowned upon. If poverty was extinguished worldwide and everyone lived a comfortable life, that would certainly be the preferred situation.
Even though comfort has its benefits, it is not always satisfying either. Almost by nature of comfort. A life of comfort and contentedness discourages new growth and change. People always say, “Why change if its not broken?” But life is change and change should be embraced.
What drives satisfaction and fulfillment?
Growth and change in ones life drives satisfaction and fulfillment. If you combat contentedness and comfort with seeking out new experiences and knowledge, you will enjoy more satisfaction and fulfillment than the average person. These could be through new social relationships, gaining new skills or investing in old ones.
New experiences are always uncomfortable beforehand, but if you can develop the courage to follow through on them, your brain will reward the novelty. Also, you may gain new friends and increase your social life too which is a sweet benefit.
Let’s return to the most capable changers of the world.
Comfort does not bar hard work. Most people at the top of society can, in fact, look back at their lives and easily craft a story of struggle and adversity which they overcame through hard-work and persistence.
It may even be part of the human condition to continuously find obstacles from our past that we’ve overcome for our life’s narrative. Struggle comes in a variety of forms and affects most, if not all of us.
Hard-work and persistence are necessary to rise up the ranks of society. The old adage “Life is a struggle” is experienced by all types of people. According to Forbes, 70% of billionaires today are “self-made”. They are the exceptions and may easily fall victim to an unfortunate fallacy.
The self-reflective reinforcement of hard-work paying off leads to the sense that the system does work and those who work hard are proportionally rewarded. This fallacy is then translated to the rest of society.
What billionaire or millionaire doesn’t love to talk about their life-story as proof that the “American Dream” is alive and well? The 1/600,000 that made it through. (540 US billionaires, ~325 million Americans)
Confirmation bias keeps the dream alive that anyone can go from rags to riches, forgetting about the 599,999 who didn’t make it. You may not believe all those people put in the same level of effort and hard work, but there’s bound to be thousands of people who just didn’t have enough luck, timing or opportunity.
It is too easy to assume others are just not working hard enough. There are billions of people worldwide working their asses off daily to survive and provide a good life for their families. Yet, due to lack of opportunities, luck, or known people, they will never experience extreme wealth and similar rewards.
This fallacy does not just affect the super-rich. The top 30% of the U.S. may also craft a narrative of working hard to build a good life and feel others must not be working hard enough.
This fallacy is detrimental to society and the world because it places a person at odds with those who didn’t make it. Those who live pay check to paycheck or the bottom billion with little opportunity to pursue a middle class life.
Such a person is not evil, nor actively attempting to worsen the lives of the less fortunate. But it is easy to be complacent and caught up in a blanket of relative comfort.
Apathy and inaction are an easy choice. There is little need to find the fire within oneself to wake up everyday in the pursuit of decreasing poverty or starvation.
Lack of Incentive
If you are at the top, there is a lack of incentive and pressure to make the world a better place for all. At the top, you are relatively more comfortable than the majority of the world. The top can be your relative position in your own country or at a global scope.
You must have immense passion and love for humanity to work towards bettering lives outside your day-to-day circle when you sit complacent in overabundance.
I’m not suggesting to never be satisfied with your own accomplishments. These are important and you should periodically step back to recognize your contributions to the world. A regular habit of gratitude for what you already have is beneficial to a consistently satisfying life.
But the take home point is to recognize that complacency can lead to apathy and become an obstacle itself. In order to consistently make the world a better place, one must see how that comfort holds them back and find ways to push beyond that boundary.
Note: These issues are always multi-faceted and require the balance of many different ideas and practices. For example, mindfulness and meditation have value in that they increase contentedness with life to make it more enjoyable. This is good. But knowing where and how complacency can hinder you, will help you recognize and overcome it too.