Warren Buffet often says he happens to be very good at something that is very financially rewarding – effectively allocating capital. He says this while making the point that plenty of other people are exceptionally gifted in ways that are not as financially rewarding (teachers, grandparents, nurses, Peace Corps assignment…) but are important to society. He understands that his worth as a person is not tied to this bank account. It might be one reason he and Bill Gates have so generously used their wealth to help others. They understand those actions are related to the their worth.
People should not tie their feeling of their own worth to their income. We don’t talk about it much directly but I see it far too often in the way we discuss things. Most people agree we shouldn’t judge people by their bank account or their earning power but we still do it. Hey we have flaws. We also judge people based on how attractive they are and how tall they are and other far from sensible things. Study after study shows we do this even if we want to pretend we don’t.
At least in the USA far too often people mistake financial success for worthiness. Financial success is great (I am not one of those that sees wealth as a bad thing – even if the correlation to bad behavior can seem high, at times). Even in companies this is often done where those with higher salaries are seen as more worthy – not everywhere, not all the time, but still more than we should. And when the economy is bad more and more people face not only financial struggles but the added pressure of feeling less worthy as they struggle financially.
I think it is good that we feel a desire to contribute and play our part in making our communities successful. But we shouldn’t be overly critical when we are making real efforts to contribute but for example, the job market is very bad and we can’t be as financially successful as we were before. Or feel we have to judge our success versus our siblings, friends, childhood friends, co-workers, children… based on our material wealth.
“I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I’d been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can’t run very fast. I’m not particularly strong. I’d probably end up as some wild animal’s dinner.” – quoted in The Audacity of Hope, page 191.