On dangers of glorification of success and winning

PedestalMost societies value success and winning, no matter how we define them. Winners and successful people receive more attention, are more popular, are generally better paid, progress in their careers faster and people would view them as role models, leaders and most importantly as being “right”.

In a capitalist society where income or net profit (in a business) is regarded as a critical metric for success, those who create more jobs, make most profit,  earn most and simply get ahead (by explicitly or implicitly beating others) along the way are generally better-respected, valued and glorified by the society. People want to follow their examples, listen to them and learn from them.

In a socialist society, it’s not that different. Success and winning are defined or measured differently, but the consequences are very similar. Those who serve the society most (such as civil servants, university professors, social entrepreneurs, job-creators, doctors or teachers) especially if they go above and beyond their call of duty become the role models and celebrities in those societies.

This trend exists even at nation levels. Those countries who are more successful or win in an international race (be it the World Cup or the World War) gain this special status. Think about the US and Soviet Union post WWII. Think about Germany and Japan in terms of their industrial might and success. Think about China, South Korea, U.A.E. and so on. Winning and success demands global respect and attention, followed by gaining more influence, power and authority over other nations.

So far so good. What is wrong with that? Why shouldn’t we celebrate success and winning? Why shouldn’t we respect and follow self-made billionaires, Gold Medalists, Nobel Prize winners and anyone who sits at the top of any organizational structure? Let’s ask the same question for successful people in our own circles. Someone we know who makes twice as much as we do? Someone who has one or two degrees more than what we have? Someone who is at the top of our class (for students)? Someone who is the boss of our boss (for employees)? Etc. Etc. Why shouldn’t we glorify them and follow their examples?

Of course, we can and sometimes we should. Sometimes a winner is “right”. Sometimes a more successful person should be a “role model” or a “leader”. But what if he or she is wrong? What if he or she sets a bad example or is a terrible leader? I would argue that our societies tend to overrate the righteousness of successful people and downplay their flaws or weaknesses. Also, our societies tend to glorify the elite and ignore the hidden moral and intellectual gems of the non-elite.

Let’s say 1 out of 100 people achieve a significant accomplishment. It’s much easier to [falsely] argue that based on this accomplishment [which is a fact], that person is superior to others. It’s such an easy [yet false] generalization, because we don’t need to evaluate the other 99 people and we don’t need to evaluate the totality of that 1 successful person.

This leaves us with a few significant implications to consider:

  1. Ideas and viewpoints of the few elite is heard and amplified more than the ideas and viewpoints of the rest 99%. Just look at a Speakers Bureau like Harry Walker and see what types of winners and successful people are listened to and get paid more to speak at corporate or professional events. Also, look at the job titles of those who write biography or career advice books. Is the story of a successful CEO or COO [who made it] more amplifiable and inspiring than the story of other executives and leaders who tried as hard but just didn’t make it to the very top?
  2. This blog is written one day after 2016 Super Tuesday. If glorification of success wasn’t a norm in our society, we might have had a different prospects and outcomes in our political system. People say “He must have done something right to be very successful”, implying that success justifies being/doing right and therefore he is a good fit to become the next US President.
  3. If success and winning were not glorified this much, children and young people wouldn’t be pressured so much to compete and beat the rest instead of partner and collaborate with others.
  4. At the global level, we might wonder why countries that are mightier or more successful economically should have a stronger voice and influence over matters such as war and peace. Or their votes matter more than the votes of other nations doing economically OK and not interested in military supremacy.

So what? Can we even change this norm? Perhaps not. Or not so quickly. But a starting point is by changing our own personal attitudes toward success and failure. By changing how we should celebrate failure and exercise humility upon our own successes. By trying to avoid an automatic extrapolation of strengths or righteousness based on one’s success or accomplishments. And by de-glorifying the elite in the eyes of our children, employees or students. To highlight that the winners are not necessarily right and the losers could be very right too.