A lottery winner, despite sharing some of his winnings with friends and family, rapidly becomes excluded and even abused by his community. The winnings feel like a curse. He has to leave the life he’s always known, due to his ‘good fortune’.
It’s not as uncommon as story as you might think. In fact, I’ve often wondered why acquiring success, sudden fame or fortune, leaves a person outcast, begrudged, or even excluded from the community that previously loved and supported him.
I have been in environments where people were genuinely very happy for those who did well. I’ve also experienced environments where I felt people had to ‘play small’ in order to be accepted and survive among peers.
I thought this was a cultural attitude. Then it dawned on me that there is one vital distinction between the two reactions. It’s the economic inequality of individuals. To put it simply, the experience of a wide difference between the “haves and have nots” breeds mistrust, resentment, and alienation.
Until my early thirties, I lived where everyone I encountered pretty much had their basic needs met. Food, shelter, clothing, were affordable and readily available in large quantities. If someone had a bit more, that was no concern, as we all had enough.
Then, I moved to a place where it was dog-eat-dog to locate a glorified ‘shed’ the average person could not afford to live in, and fight tooth and nail to be good enough to win the privilege to live in it. Never mind living paycheque to paycheque; if you didn’t have to use credit cards to pay essential bills, you were considered well off. And that was in the ‘good area’. Now, I live in an area considered by the government as ‘deprived’. Here, people have far less. Oddly enough, they seem to happily get by on less. However, there is still the raised eyebrow if someone has something new, or something that looks like it came from somewhere other than a cheap shop or a boot sale. When this happens, people retreat. They question behind your back. It’s uncomfortable for all.
There are countries where everyone has very little materially. Yet people are happy, live a peaceful existence, and there is low crime. In countries where there are luxuriously rich and dreadfully poor, where economic inequality is rife, so is there a high crime rate.
There is no doubt about it. Distribute the world’s wealth equally, and we’d all be at peace. The question is: how do we make this happen? It seems to me that politics and government is not the answer. Ideals such as communism and socialism didn’t really work. There appears to be corruption in democracy, too. But each individual has a choice. And each individual can act with social conscience. What if, instead of buying a holiday home and a second car, we all made sure that those in need of shelter and transport had those needs supplied before we indulge in excess?
I wonder what an Equal world would be like.
Equality and Inequality © June 27, 2011 | Annie Zalezsak