In kindergarten we learned to play nice. To wait in line, take turns, and never take more than our fair share. These values help to create a society that runs smoothly, where people get along with each other.
But they do nothing to create a world that is getting better every day, where innovative people come up with new ideas. They do nothing to create leaders.
Consider the case of Lihong, who grew up in China. His parents struggled to get by. Everybody in the village was very poor, and there was no incentive for self-improvement. If one person worked harder than the others, he didn’t profit, but instead, anything he made was shared equally.
But during the Four Modernizations era people began to be allowed to profit by their own hard work. Many small industries sprang up. Lihong’s parents ran a shop, and began to be able to afford small luxuries. Culturally it was still difficult; people still thought of capitalism as a dirty word, but conditions began to improve.
Lihong learned from this experience. When everybody is forced to share equally, there is no incentive for anyone to to try to do better. It was as if everybody was lazy. But when people were allowed to profit from their hard work, they would work hard to improve their own circumstances, which also usually made life better for other people as well.
If we can’t benefit from the fruits of our own labor, we are no better than slaves or serfs. Each person should have the right to benefit from their own thoughts and actions.
“Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.” — Winston Churchill
The promise of life in America is the right to benefit from what we do. We need to make sure that what we do doesn’t hurt society. We have to be prepared to suffer the consequences of our actions. But we have the right to make as much or as little as we we are willing to work for.
It’s Not Fair!
A common refrain of childhood, especially in multi-child families, is “It’s not fair!”. Cries of “She got more than I did!” or “His piece is bigger than mine!” abound. At an early age the concept of fairness is ingrained in us.
Fairness helps to make sure that our clan can survive, by making sure that each person gets some food. The concept of fairness helps us to look out for each other. Human beings are social animals. When we look out for each other, we create strong social bonds.
However, life is not fair. Some people have more opportunities than others. Some people have more bad luck. If we always strive to be fair, we might think that we shouldn’t take an opportunity because not everybody has that opportunity. Or we might think that we should suffer a calamity, because other people are suffering.
That way of thinking doesn’t help to create a better world. We each have the right to pursue the opportunities that come our way, even if other people don’t have the same opportunities. And we don’t have to suffer needlessly just because other people are suffering.
We can make our choices based on considerations of what might help other people or society as a whole, but we don’t have to forego good luck just because other people don’t have the same opportunity.
And we have the right to do everything in our power to avoid negative outcomes for ourselves. We should consider the larger world, our families and communities, but ultimately we don’t have to take the bad just because “somebody has to”.
“Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.” — Oscar Wilde
Life is not fair. It is your responsibility to make the best of what is given to you.
Wait Your Turn
In kindergarten we learned to wait for our turn with a favored toy. There was some assurance from the adults in charge that we would have equal time if only we would wait. However, even in kindergarten we may have noticed that sometimes playtime was over before we got the promised turn.
Again, waiting for a turn creates an orderly society, where people are not fighting to be first. It works well in bank lines and at the grocery store. But it does not work so well with opportunities in life.
If we believe that somebody else has the right to the valued goods right now, we deny our own right. It is much better to realize that we have equal rights to the scarce commodities, but we have to be smart about how we get to them.
One approach that is often successful is to fight for our rights by explaining convincingly why we should have the coveted resource more than other people should. A highly persuasive person is often allowed to go first or have the best.
“If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” — Harry S Truman
Another approach is to spend more than other people for the right to be first. You can become a gold card member at some establishments, giving you special privileges. You can donate more, or pay a higher price for the privilege of being first.
Perhaps there is a way around the queue. At some stores, if you are paying attention, another register will open and you can grab the opportunity to be first. Perhaps a kindergartner can find old toy and have so much fun with it, that other children will abandon the new toy and gravitate toward the older one. The wise child can then go take a turn with the new toy in peace.
However you approach the situation, realize that you have as much right as anybody else to be first. You do want to consider your community when you plan your approach. Starting a fist fight in order to be first is not a good approach in civilized society. But you should consider finding a way around the line if it matters a lot to you. Otherwise just wait your turn patiently.
A leader recognizes that she has a right to the fruits of her own labor and mental efforts. Other people may not have as much, because they may not strive as hard. But that doesn’t mean that she has to limit herself.
A good leader considers other people and the greater good to society, but also allows herself to have what she can earn.
A leader realizes that life is not fair. She takes what comes her way, and makes the best out of it. She knows she has the right to pursue her unique opportunities, and to avoid negative consequences to herself.
A good leader realizes that as she pursues an opportunity that is good for her, she can also make the world a better place because of it.
“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” — Alexander the Great
A leader doesn’t stand around and wait for something to happen. A good leader steps out and leads the way.