The Heart of the Matter
Back when people lived in caves, a person's value was measured by his ability to slay the woolly mammoth or her ability to plant and harvest grain. Cave people were esteemed or diminished by their tribe simply based upon their ability to produce food or protect the village. As of this writing, not a whole lot has changed.
We don't all plant grain, and nobody slays woolly mammoths anymore. But we do pay a great deal of attention to each others' ability to create value and to keep our commitments. In fact, deep inside, we're constantly judging ourselves and each other on the basis of how well we provide for our families and how much we're trusted as stewards of the benefits and luxuries of civilization.
When we're able to afford a beautiful home, we feel a profound sense of self-worth. When we can buy a new car, we pick up a distinct spring in our step. When we pay off a credit card, it's a good day.
Our quality of life and our self-esteem run together like thunder and lightning. When we're able to provide for ourselves and our families comfortably, we feel good about ourselves. When we are failing to meet our basic needs, or if there's stress surrounding our ability to earn a living, we begin to feel less and less valuable as a human being.
Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who described the needs of human beings as a pyramid of needs beginning with our most- basic needs and then progressing to more sophisticated ones. Maslow rightly pointed out that we need basic food, clothing and shelter first. But Maslow's analysis may underplay something far more critical in today's society: Without a sense of self-worth and self-esteem, we may be able to eat and enjoy sheltered, but it might be tough to accomplish much else. How we feel about ourselves is a big factor in determining our quality of life.
We will do most anything to feel good about ourselves. Almost nothing is as important as feeling like we're worthy, respectable people who are making an important contribution to the world. If we're buried in debt and failing to meet our families' basic needs, it often feels like we've failed as a contributor to our families and sometimes that we have failed as a human being. Nothing can be more desperate than that: to FAIL as a human being.
Consider the front-line brigades of the Taliban of Afghanistan, Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka or similar fundamentalist terrorists anywhere. With few exceptions, such individuals are extremely frustrated by the economic conditions in which they find themselves. Many front-line terrorists have found themselves struggling to meet their families' or their own basic human needs. As an example, in Afghanistan, more women die in childbirth than anywhere else on the face of the planet, and over sixteen percent of infants die before they're one year old. They have absolutely no chance of achieving the standard of living openly displayed by the Western world, and promoted heavily across the airwaves by Hollywood, and they're lucky to provide enough to simply ensure their families' survival. They have a choice: either accept their inability to live on an economic level comparable to Western standards or find another way to feel good about themselves. (One might argue that their only alternative is to submit to the possibility that they are so inferior to Westerners as human beings that they don't deserve to live any better than they do. And who would accept that?!) So, rather than entertain that possibility, even though it means in some cases losing their very lives, these men and women turn toward a philosophy that demonizes financial abundance and exalts the "nobility" of their own poverty. It's just too much to ask for them to accept their economic state as a fact of life. It would mean seeing themselves as less valuable than the "decadent" and corrupt Americans. They will do almost anything else, including taking their own lives in acts of terror, in order to feel better about their own circumstances.
Likewise, our own self-esteem is sustained, buoyed up by our financial well-being and supported by our ability to buy a home, a car or take vacations with our family. When the tide of our success falls, so does our self-confidence. As shallow as this may sound, our self-esteem sometimes seems as if it can be measured by our credit scores. In fact, it's undeniable: when our credit tanks, when our card is denied, when our home is foreclosed, these can be the darkest moments of our self-worth. Sadly, these are the times when some slip into depression and others turn to escaping this life altogether.
If Maslow lived today, and he knew of the dark tides of financial failure engulfing much of America, it would be interesting to see where he might place a good credit score in the hierarchy of human needs. The credit score, whether right or wrong, says so much about a person's value to society that it's difficult to unwrap its grip from every area of our lives. It is the closest thing to a report...
Credit Revolution: Path of the Smart Consumer 2007 John C. Heath, Esq., Dr. Randy Padawer, Jayson R. Orvis. All Rights Reserved. Published by Far Cliffs Multimedia, LLC