The cruel misunderstanding of “poor today live like kings of yesterday”

November 8, 2020 by Joshua
in Awareness, Relationships

You’ve heard the concept that poor people today, with cell phones, large TVs, computers, and so on live beyond the fantasies of kings. Here are a few headlines among many articles.

They talk about material possessions. Maybe medicine.

You’ve also heard people suggest the exercise of what you’d want your gravestone to say or for people to say about you after you die. For all the joking that whoever dies with the most toys wins, our connections with others mean the most to most people. We want our health, security, and baseline life necessities, but they create the platform for meaning and purpose, which come from our actions relating to others.


You may have also heard “the opposite of addiction is connection,” as in the TED video Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong, which suggests seeing addiction not asa substance disorder, as a social one.

If meaning and purpose come from social connections and addiction results from lack of social connection, a culture full of addiction suggests a culture lacking social connection, therefore people lacking meaning and purpose. What value is a TV when you lack meaning and purpose. It’s just distraction, which might as well lead to addiction.

Did you know in many countries you can buy opiates over the counter? Look at these headlines:

For whatever those nations’ drug problems, they’re nothing like America’s. Do you think the following suggests health?

The cruel misunderstanding of “poor today live like kings of yesterday”

This is the cruel misunderstanding of “poor today live like kings of yesterday”. Kings had status, which is a social value, not material. To compare poor to kings not on what they valued confuses the issue by looking for value where we don’t derive value.

A less confused, more meaningful comparison would be that rich people in America today live less meaningful lives than poor people elsewhere or in other times. Our addiction levels suggest so.

What to do about it

Focusing on material stuff that, beyond not creating meaning or purpose, distracts from those things, can make people feel more despondent: “I have this car and TV. I should feel happy. Why don’t I? Is there something wrong with me?” It can lead people to look for solutions where they can’t find it, like buying things. It distracts them from looking where they can find it, like acting in service to others, which can cost nothing in time or money, yet creates meaning and purpose.

I guess at the individual level, learning social and emotional skills improves your life more than buying things for those who have the basics of security, health, and so on. Come to think of it, they help you attain the basics if you lack them too. My books Initiative and Leadership Step by Step teach social and emotional skills through practice, but my point today is to avoid the distraction of material things. (I still recommend the books)

If living like a king in terms of material stuff meant something meaningful at the life level, we wouldn’t get so addicted. We do, suggesting owning things doesn’t create connections. Social and emotional skills do, which focusing on material stuff distracts from.

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