What do You bring to the Table?

(A Forgotten Ethic)


John Wright


Recently I find myself thinking more and more about the dichotomy across Humanity defined according to the title of this article. I am sure some of the basis for my thinking has to do with the ballooned federal budget and debt opposite the cost of entitlement programs. Another piece has to do with personal relationships, the contributions that we make as individuals to the success of a friendship or a marriage. A third and fairly obvious inclusion is the world of business, where individual contribution to the success of the business is essential even to survival of the business. A final part has to do with the recognition that unequal contributions and unequal abilities to contribute must be accommodated and dealt with in ways that do not punish the larger contributors, or those too unfortunate to be able to compete successfully in modern times for a financially secure life.

The one reality that cuts across all of the subjects above is the issue that people are not equal. They are not equal genetically in ability to learn or to perform physically. They are not equal in the environments provided to them in which they need to be nurtured while they are young. They are not equal in terms of educational opportunity or later employment opportunity. Of these last two items educational opportunity is something that can be addressed, but only insofar as the possibility of receiving a good education is something actually provided and used. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. This means the social environment may be so bad that available education is not valued within the nuclear family or within the immediate peer group. For that matter, even with government funding available education may be sorely inadequate opposite what is needed later to be employable. Employment opportunity is typically an accident of location of birth for most people who do not obtain higher education, for while some percentage of them will move geographically to seek opportunity the vast majority will not, mostly for cultural, immediate financial or nuclear family reasons.

As I consider personal relationships I am forced to acknowledge that there are vast differences in personalities. Also there are major differences in individual perceptions of roles in life based on early life experiences within the nuclear family and the peer group. Beyond that we must consider learned cultural values related to honesty, sense of responsibility and motivation to create or produce for the good of the relationship. All these things apply from simple friendships to marriages. And the impact of the individual on the working environment is significant, as is the impact of the working environment on the individual. To add confusion, the individual in one setting is sometimes very different in values and behaviors vs. other settings. The tyrant at work can be a pussycat at home, or the reverse. The friend you learn you can trust may in fact be a thief when it comes to being considerate of other people. Your mate’s perception of required and acceptable contributions from both of you may vary considerably from your own perception.

The business environment is not the place to go looking for brotherly love and consideration of your personal wants and needs, unless you happen to be perceived as essential to the success of the business enterprise. The external social imposition aspect of conducting business has been very confused for the past forty years, as businesses have been forced to adapt to various societal changes regarding gender, race and culture issues, not to mention globalization. The outcome is a Human Relations structure, particularly within larger corporations, that is legally faultless but just as self-serving as any policies ever were in the past. Beyond the considerations of cultural and globalization changes in society the underlying reason for you being granted a job is that the business will make a profit from your labor. For you personally, you may derive pleasure in doing what you do, even pride, but the bottom line is you work to make money to meet all of your other needs and responsibilities in life. Your purpose is identical to that of the business. If you grasp that essential point your forward thinking is likely to be rational. If not, you will remain forever confused or misdirected about the nature of the employer/employee relationship. Your success may well be marginal, or maybe you will be blind to coming changes in the business that will undermine your security, or perhaps you will evolve to become more of a parasite and less of a contributor.

These lead-in paragraphs were merely a statement of some unarguable facts. Think of them as nothing more than a set of definitions and conditions, and incomplete at that, from which to consider how to evolve society in ways that are both humanitarian and practical in the long term. The idea is that most of us can grasp at a subliminal level the notion that society is supposed to progress, not to be static, and not to regress. The intent is for us to avoid the failures of earlier cultures and civilizations, and in fact to stay focused on continuous improvements. Having grasped that most basic and larger purpose we have a better sense of why we all work together, and sometimes live together, to the greater good of society and to us. The problems that arise in realizing this higher goal are quite simply products of the dissonance in our beliefs and abilities and opportunities … and ultimately our wisdom, which requires broad and deep knowledge.

So, what do you bring to the table? What, exactly, do you have to offer society at large, to personal relationships with individuals, and also to a business that may potentially provide you a career? For your survival and beyond that your personal satisfactions and pleasures you have to consider the idea that what you expect in recognition and rewards must parse with what you have to offer and indeed with what you actually offer and then actually do.

I think about people who have higher education yet create or produce nothing of consequence. I think about people who confuse a high opinion of their morality or other personality characteristics or physical beauty or physical abilities with some hypothetical reason as to why they should be successful financially, or be appreciated by those for whom they have provided little or nothing. I think also about those who use their mental abilities and subsequent knowledge to extract for themselves wealth far in excess of their ability, need or intent to use that wealth for any creative or developmental purpose on behalf of Humanity.

The primary point of the last statement is that it appears to be easy for people of inadequate abilities or unwillingness to contribute, and easy for people of superior abilities and with willingness to contribute, to far overvalue their meaning or rights regarding the progression of Humanity. Thus their perception of a proper "fair share" of the products of the productive people who actually advance the Human Race is distorted. This is, shall I say, our major problem throughout history. It is most simply called, "Personal Value Distortion," and it is unjustified egocentrism at the group level. It is a value judgment seldom recognized by the individual. It is something essentially never acknowledged by any individual or any group. It is the value foundation for our most creative lying.

For all the stories that might be related about countless examples of this troublesome reality, or for all of the better legislation that has been developed to attempt to manage this problem, or for all of the beneficial contributions of religion to teach us a better morality, we find ourselves at this time in history with absurd examples of both extremes. We have little in the way of a rational path to correct the manifestations of these problems in Human society.

Allow me to state and to claim that an athlete who performs superbly well, leading to the success of his/her team, or for self in individual competition, in achieving the highest honors for a given sport, is someone who truly understands what it means to bring something meaningful to the table. It matters not that athletics will not produce the next miracle drug to cure a horrible disease. What matters is that within the domain, in which the individual can perform, that nothing short of excellence is acceptable to the individual.

I could provide different examples covering wider and seemingly more appropriate areas of human life that might claim comparative superiority in essentiality or contribution to the progression of the Human race. It would not matter, for the issue of true importance is that of a particular moral value … to give the best that one has or is capable of giving on behalf of a higher goal … something far beyond individual needs or appetites.

So it is that laziness and/or thievery/dishonesty are key destroyers of Human progress. Both are moral issues, not matters of the accident of our births, for better or for worse. Thus, to find myself in a period of history where these extreme immoralities from both ends of the financial spectrum appear to dominate society is unacceptable. I can pardon those of ignorance born of low intelligence, inferior environment and poor opportunities for personal growth and financial success. They cannot do what is important to society and they must be managed to limit their negative impact on society. But what I cannot pardon are those of high ability who demean Humanity by destroying opportunity for other productive people on behalf of personal greed.

Thus it is, as I wrote years ago in Destiny, that extreme hunger for power and wealth is mental illness. It is Personal Value Distortion. It is the primary reason why all the good done by those who actually create the new technologies from scientific advancement are looked upon as objects to fear instead of as the only people who will actually advance the Human race beyond our past and present limitations. These people bring to the table the most essential gifts of all … the gifts that will enable us to put our sad history behind us, and allow us to achieve as a species advancement far beyond our wildest imaginings. Will we let them do it or will we allow the selfish people among us to grab the fruits of their efforts to create yet another millennium of Human misery? A few examples follow.

Individuals and companies who believe they have the right to patent genes discovered by them but not created by them, and then extract royalties, are dangerous to our wellbeing and our potential growth as a species. Individuals and governments that believe they have a right to free sustenance or the authority to redistribute the wealth created by productive people are also dangerous to our realization of the future we might enjoy that should result from what we bring to the table. One group, by sheer and growing mass, will negatively influence our future by voting for expanding socialism and reproducing more of themselves to excess continuously. The other group, the governments, will pander to the mass of the voters and to individuals and companies who contribute to their personal unearned wealth obtained by using their position of power primarily towards their own financial gain to the detriment of the productive population. These groups do not bring to the table what is needed for Humanity to evolve successfully. They are our destroyers.

I conclude that contribution to the healthy growth of society combined with a morality that balances expectations of financial reward with actual contribution is the mark, the goal, the absolute requirement, the only way to success as a society. To the extent that we are not that way is the extent to which we will fail. The evidence of the truth of our failure as a society today is seen in various places. The most glaring notable ones are governmental debt; a banking system that undermines the earned wealth of productive people via created inflation, and a rapidly expanding population of people using one form or another of welfare. And this is coincident with wealth distribution that is, to put it plainly, a hoggish display of low morality.

We can stop excessive numbers of non-contributors from being born, and we can contain the wealth of individuals and corporations and the power they wield. Most of all we can teach moral purpose on behalf of the society and the individual as an underpinning for aligning financial reward with contribution, or, what you bring to the table.

What do you bring to the table? Are you earning your way through life or not? Are you giving as good as what you receive in your personal relationships? Are you honest and realistic?