Many things have been written about what constitutes success. Most often in our contempory situation success is measured in terms of wealth. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are household names thanks to Forbes list of richest people in the world. In a growing consumerist world, “things” are playing an ever increasing role in our measurement of success.

We have bigger houses (the average American house doubled in the last 50 years and I suspect the same trend can be seen in South Africa), prefer to drive around in big 4×4’s (even to fetch the children from school), TV’s gets larger, holidays further and more exotic, clothing keep on getting more labelled and disposable becomes the criteria of the day.

In short, it can be said that success on average is measured by the capability of a person to consume energy and create waste. The reverse is also true in a very few instances, where success is measured in the financial ability to buy technologies that allows for an excessive lifestyle but have a neglitable energy and waste footprint. This however strengthens, even expands on the measure of success; those who can use the most energy and generate the most waste and at the same time limit their carbon footprint and recycle most of their waste is the most successful of all. Hopefully this slows us down enough to think about our definition of success for a moment.

I believe the time has come for us to take serious stock of how we define success. I would like to argue that success needs to be defined in different terms all together. Success reclaimed would encompass different values than the monetary based wealth definition; I want to highlight three of these values.

The first is a life of sustainability. This is more than the financial ability to limit one’s carbon footprint through expensive technologies. A life of sustainability first and foremost embraces justice and integrity. It is impossible to live an extravagant life without impacting negatively on someone else’s somewhere. We live on a planet which is finite, limited. Growth ad infinitum is impossible. A successful life therefore is one of frugality, justice and integrity.

The second is a life of moral value. It seems that in the quest for monetary wealth, everything is upgradable, disposable or justifiable. One only has to look at a world where corruption is common place; divorce is the familiar story of many families and the own self is the first authority on behaviour. It therefore seems that a life of success rather strives to uphold honesty before financial gain and family values before a neglected community.

The third, and probably the most important, is a life in relationship. No one lives as an island. We are all dependent on another and them on us. It is therefore inevitable that success is measured on the impact of us on others but also the impact on ourselves. We can only achieve a life of sustainability that is characterized by moral fibre if we live with our interdependence as a single focus; relationship up, horizontal, down; in and out.

Success measured in terms of wealth inevitably leads to a break down of, at least some, relationships, often tempts one with immoral choices and is unsustainable at the core. The only question remains; why still use wealth as the measure of success?

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