What would you do if……..
What would you do if you grew up poor and suddenly found yourself a multimillionaire professional athlete? Would you put most of your money in sensible long-term investments and charitable foundations and leave yourself just enough money for a nice upper middleclass lifestyle? Or would you buy a huge mansion, a fleet of cars, and other expensive toys and live a party lifestyle?
Or what would you do if you were raised by wealthy parents who were able to finance a first-class education for you and use their connections and money to start you on a successful career path in business? Would you center your life on maximizing profits and giving the largest possible return to shareholders or would you concentrate your corporate resources on altruistic projects at the sacrifice of a return on investment?
Or what would you do if you were a tenured educator, a union member or covered by Civil Service rules? Knowing that your job security and compensation have little if anything to do with your performance on the job, would you put forth minimum effort or would you go all out to do the best possible job you could do even if it caused you problems with your co-workers?
Or what would you do if you were a politician who really wanted to be re-elected? Would you take a stand on principle and do the right thing even if it might cost you the next election?
It is easy for those of us who are none of the above to have firm opinions about the decisions made by those who are. But for a curious conspiracy of circumstances, we would be in any one of their situations and easily making choices that we now condemn. How many times do you hear a lottery winner say something like, “It’s not going to change my life, I’m going to pay my bills and maybe buy a new car and bank the rest?” But as the reality of the new wealth begins to sink in and new options present themselves, life changes. It’s a rare person who is unchanged by sudden wealth.
Whether you are a young athlete on a narcissistic path of self-destruction, a businessperson obsessed with money and power, a protected employee with little motivation to excel, or a politician who knows that taking a stand on principle could cost a highly desired office, you would probably choose the path that most people would choose.
It is hard not to be critical of corporate shills who exaggerate the qualities and benefits of their products to improve their profits and personnel bonuses. There is almost universal distaste for politicians who exaggerate or outright lie about their accomplishments and the shortcomings of their opponents.
What about people and issues that we support? As an active environmentalist, would we find exaggerations about potential environmental damage from a new development or pipeline just as repugnant as the corporate or political fabrications? Probably not, in fact there is a better than even chance that if the politician was of our party, or we have a financial stake in the development project, we would not only give a pass to the made-up stuff, but we would also enthusiastically support it.
As human beings we are not all that dissimilar. The path of least resistance is a well-worn path, and it would benefit all of us to keep that in mind when judging others. We know that there is a big difference between our circumstances and those of others and we think that if our roles were reversed, we would
keep our current values and make different decisions than the ones we think others make.
It is a hard pill to swallow, but the reality is that most of us are not as virtuous as we think, and others are nowhere near as flawed.