Sunday, May 02, 2010
While I was in Italy I read the book "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell. I would say the main thesis of the book is summed up by this excerpt, "the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work." This one idea has taken root within me and has altered my perspective on life.
Our culture praises the work of the individual and gives awards and honours to specific people for extraordinary achievements. Even people's names are attached to breakthroughs, achievements, and high schools. But why do we attribute so much to individuals?
The only reason an individual can achieve or accomplish anything is because of everything and everyone that happened before them. Their success is largely a result of their lot in life. As Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants."
I'm not saying our individual efforts are insignificant. They are pretty darn cool! But rather, the circumstances in our life, the good and bad experiences, the genetic makeup of our bodies and brains, the culture and era that we live in, the people that surround us and instruct us and guide us, all play integral roles in us achieving our "individual" achievements.
Actually before Italy, this idea had first been planted in my brain when I was in Atlanta last November. While there I went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and learned a lot about his life. The thing that struck me the most is the circumstances before him that caused him to be raised up as the leader for the civil rights movement. He really happened to be at the right place at the right time with the right upbringing and right skills.
One of the major events that propelled MLK Jr. to the forefront was the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956. If you don't know the story, go research it. I'm sure you've heard of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus for white people. Well, this was the leverage used to challenge the segregation laws in the US. It should be noted that MLK Jr. didn't start the boycott, he was just a young minister at the time! It was E.D. Nixon who rallied the black people together, and he personally choose King to be the new leader. As a result of this year-long boycott, MLK Jr. became the face of the civil rights movement in the States. This gave King the power and the opportunity to became the great leader his father had been preparing him to become.
His father was a Reverend and a major player in the civil rights movement, yet he doesn't receive the same recognition as his son. Was it because his son was greater than he was? His son was a better achiever? I don't know for sure, but I would say no! I can imagine his work was just as significant as his son's. Yet he doesn't have a holiday or his face on any stamps. Why not? Because he wasn't born at the right time and the right place to effect the amount of change that his son did. I think Martin Luther King Jr. was a great individual, but his lot in life took him on a path leading to higher recognition and achievement.
Okay, so where am I going with all this?!?! For myself I can no longer look at any ONE person and think, "Wow, look how great they are!" or "Look at that loser!" because I now recognize that we are all simply products. Everyone has a different lot in life and that lot will determine whether you have the opportunity to succeed or whether you'll be severely limited in life. And the lot that we're given should in no way reflect our personal value or worth.
I have many more thoughts connected with this, but I'll stop here for now. This could go into topics like how we treat the planet, are all humans equal, God's role in assigning our portions, or how we've misunderstood the power of names. Where does this idea take you?
Before we're done here, though, I want to make a point of saying this is no excuse for wasting life. We are accountable for what we do with our portions and the choices that we make. I believe that we all have the opportunity to choose the right path, no matter our lot in life.