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Why Do We Hate Success?

We hate big business. We hate the wealthy. We hate overachievers. Why? It doesn’t make any sense to me. The amount of contempt I’ve seen recently towards those who are successful is astonishing. Is it part of our society that wishes to bring everyone back to the average? More importantly, could this increasing contempt sabotage our economy? I think quite possibly (and might have already damaged it).

Let’s start with the wealthy. We can include big business in this examination as well since it generates a fair bit of our nation’s wealth and wealthy. Granted there are some in the upper income strata who reside there merely because of family wealth, but a majority of our nation’s most wealthy are first generation success stories. As the book The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy notes, fewer than 20 percent of America’s millionaires inherited 10 percent or more of their wealth, nearly half never received any college tuition from their parents or other relatives, and more than half never received as much as $1 in inheritance.

But, they’re still hated. Chad Lapa agrees,

For some unknown reason we are taught either as kids, or though the left wing media, that people wealthy and successful are born with some special gene that products their success. Due to this unfair power they possess over us, they should be punished and forced to pay crazy high tax rates so their wealth can be re-distributed to the “less fortunate”. [sic]

While I wouldn’t say that people are taught by “the left wing media,” I do agree that “progressive” taxes are the average person’s way of redistributing wealth and, in effect, “punishing” the wealthy. However, the negative repercussions of redistributing wealth are staggering. Frankly, wealth creation is not a zero sum game. Just because one person has it, doesn’t mean another won’t or that it was hostilely taken from another party.

Similarly, big business is often decried as evil. I don’t deny that there is corruption in some companies (see: short term vs. long term). However, they also contribute a majority of our nations productivity gains (read: more wealth) and generate much of our nation’s wealth. By nature, they are more efficient (generally speaking and when they aren’t regulated into inefficiency) and employ a large percentage of the US workforce. Don’t read this to mean I don’t like small/medium businesses or that I believe bigger is better in the business world. My point is that large corporations aren’t inherently evil. Plus, they produce people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett who then donate nearly $100 billion back to the world.

But, let’s think smaller. How many smart kids (“overachievers”) are teased and bullied everyday in school? Why do we have terms like nerd, geek, and dweeb? In my experience, people have been bold enough to tell me to my face that they hope I fail. Or, in the web development world, what about the successful 37signals (software company)? Many people laud them, but with each new, successful offering more and more contempt is directed towards them (for more on this: read their blog about any given day).

So, everyone, when did we start to hate success? Is it human nature?

20 replies on “Why Do We Hate Success?”

I personally do not loathe successful or wealthy people because they are successful or wealthy. I do not loathe the Bill Gates’s and Warren Buffet’s of this world, who have contributed in a great amount to making the world better and helping the less fortunate. I do however loathe the Kenneth Lay’s and Dennis Kozlowski’s, these egotistical money-grubbing types who spend thousands of dollars on toilet seats and pillow chocolates, all at the expense of their companies and stockholders. The people who make millions of dollars each year, yet cheat their way to get just a few more. I also realize that it is not fair to have taxes targeting the wealthy, but I personally believe it is more viable. I base it on simple values, in that a person of extravagant means can more easily afford a higher tax which will also produce a greater amount of money to be utilized than a person of lesser means. I also get very irked when I see people like Oprah, these supposed “great humanitarian” types, wearing a diamond necklace worth 5 million dollars or some outrageous sum, and getting nothing but recognition for it. It seems that all of these rappers with their pimp cups, kitschy jewelry, and platinum and diamond “grills” who are so proud to have made it big are completely numb to the term “blood diamonds,” and just seem to be shitting on many of their ancestry. It is obviously a much greater swath of people than just rappers and Oprah, but the point is much the same. I also loathe seeing celebrities pitching for their charities. I know this is at the expense of many good charities, but honestly, I just worked my ass off for a year in Iraq. I might have had a total of 12-15 days off in that whole year (not including mid-tour leave), and most days I worked anywhere from 11 to 15 hours regularly, and sometimes as much as 24 hours or more straight, and with all of my bonuses, my tax free pay, and everything else added up, I probably just squeaked past clearing 40 grand. I know many a single soldier of lesser ranks who did nearly as many hours and nearly as much work and made just over 20 grand for their year. Many of these celebrities make 20 million plus per picture, and they’re pitching to me? I understand many of these are selfish reasons, and some could be considered narrow-minded, but they are my opinions, and you can mark my words, if I were to ever make a ridiculous amount of money, say 4 million plus each year, I would not be trying to find tax loopholes, and a great portion of it would be given to charities…anonymously. Lastly, it seems people of wealth are looked up to, emulated, and respected, and many of them (Paris Hilton) deserve none of this. It has always seemed ironic that people like Oprah get all this praise for giving the members of her audience a car, yet people like Norman Borlaug are virtually unknown among the american masses.

Jeff, I really do think a lot of corporate corruption (which creates the likes of Jeffrey Skilling and WorldCom execs) goes back to short term vs. long term vision (my thoughts linked above) on the part of both executives and stockholders. However, I dare say I’m not smart enough to tell you how to go about fixing this. Small scale, sure, but to turn around thinking of a majority of the corporate world is an entirely different thing.

JC, great article.

While I agree to an extent that it can go back to a short-term vs. long-term vision much as your linked opinion states (and you would know better than I, having at least some formal education in the matter), I believe that a portion of this corporate corruption is due simply to greed and a lack of true morals. It seems that many would put their personal welfare above the greater good of a company and it’s stockholders(much as you stated, the “long-term” viability). It seems lacking of morals, though I personally have “procured” many an office supply from the coffers of the US Army, so maybe they believe it is there for the taking in much the same way?

Yes, I agree that at some point, after taking out all other causes, a small portion of corporate corruption is due to greed and other shortcomings. But is that not true of all corruption (across all echelons of wealth)? And why hold contempt towards the entire corporate world when but a small faction is truly corrupt?

at the end of the day, it is salutary thaty certain types of success are not held in high esteem

for one, success is not interesting (“the negative is more importunate” as eliot said – or “happiness writes white on the page” as tolstoy said.. neither are ‘losers’)

two, it is important to keep a sense of perspective.

success is very very very difficult to define i would say

a successful life is one which harms very little/very few

what do you think?

Tom, there are, of course, many different kinds of success. For this piece, I was referring to success in a more traditional sense, but, as you say, success can be defined in many different ways. And, the business world in its short-sightedness tends to only care about the traditional meaning.

Because the human race is very angry at the success of our brothers. I mean, if you were at a party and talking how well everything was going for you and how much money you made and I am barely struggling to get my citizenship in Canada, I’d probably be seething mad. But that’s my opinion.

Hi Nickel,

People, as a rule, don’t hate success. They hate greed. If you take a poll, I’d imagine that you’ll find that most people have a great deal of respect and admiration for Gates, Beatty, and Allen and many other hugely ‘successful’ people.

Think of it this way. You like pie, I like pie. Lets imagine that there is an unlimited supply of pie, and everyone wants some. Now, I’m a smart guy, and I figure out a more efficient way of gathering pie than you do (even tho’ technically I already have more pie than I need). I put this pie aquisition tool (PAT) into operation and shortly thereafter, I’ve got even more pie. Pretty cool, huh?

The problem is that I already had more pie than I really needed, so the excess pie kinda gets wasted. But, it’s my pie, right? I have every right to do whatever I want with it. You might even think “Wow! Good job Cory! I’m really happy for you!” Even while you kinda wonder what I’m doing with all that pie.

Some people, on the other hand, see my display of excess as vulgar and rude. I’m literally sitting on a mountain of pie – I’m totally glutted on it and to be honest, I’m kinda sick of pie and don’t really even like it anymore. But, having so much pie means I’m SUCCESSFUL, and if I can get even more pie then it follows that I’ll be even more SUCCESSFUL.

So I patent the PAT and then sell it to other people who want more pie than they need. I charge these people 1 pie for every 10 pies they get using the PAT. That’s a tiny profit margin (10%) but I’ve already got more pie than I can use, and now I’ve got an additional pie coming in from every person I sell the PAT to.

But to what end? I’m already sick of pie, I have a thousand, or even a million times the amount of pie I actually need. But the system is in place, and I can receive even MORE pie without lifting another finger thanks to my PAT marketing.

Eventually, people start coming to me and asking for pie.. The right thing to do is to give away the excess pie. But, it’s my pie and as we’ve already discussed pie == SUCCESS. Why should I help these other people be successful when it doesn’t help me in any way? Nobody helped me, after all. I got all this pie on my own. Let them figure out their own PATs. By not giving them free pie, I’m encouraging them to be SUCCESSFUL like me.

This attitude only makes the “unSUCCESSFUL” people (ie people who have their normal amount of pie) resent me. You see, they may have come up with their own PATs, but since they already had enough pie to start with, they decided not to use the PATs – because it’s the right thing to do. Greed, “an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs,”is a sin, after all. And those people who made a moral choice to not be greedy, are called unSUCCESSFUL. Wouldn’t that make you angry?

The idea, of course, isn’t that people hate me because I’m SUCCESSFUL. They hate that I am sitting on this enormous pile of pie (money) – which amounts to a huge monument to my own greed. If I give the money away (like Gates, Allen & Buffet and many, many other do) then I get all the applause in the world.

The perception of the unSUCCESSFUL however, is that most of the rich don’t share their wealth. Unless, of course, they are encouraged to do so as a means of protecting that which they are supposedly giving away.

It’s nauseating.

-C

I think CORY! summed it up brilliantly.

People don’t hate success. Though people dislike many of the byproducts that result from people who abuse the wealth and influence that success brings.

Just look at the goodwill the general community have towards people such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett who have decided to use their success in philanthropic efforts. Even look at the positive response to Richard Branson’s recent commitment to invest in environmentally friendly renewable energy research and development.

Everyday people appreciate what successful people have achieved when their success is not at the result of hurting the overall community.

[…] Over time, I began thinking, “Maybe I am crazy and they’re right. Big business is evil. CEO’s and professional athletes only look out for themselves. They don’t deserve that money.” But then Nicole Swan posed a question on her blog (Why Do We Hate Success?), and I realized I wasn’t alone. Maybe the problem is not “those people” and their astonishing accomplishments as much as it’s our response to their success. So I’m now back to my original thought: […]

Everyone sems to always want to have everyone the same as them, if this means not successful then that is what they want. No one wants to see someone break from the herd and be successful because then it shows them that hey, if I put some effort into it I could be successful. They want it to come to them. The lottery syndrome I call. They don’t want to work and then magically you get rich.

The hatred is from success at the expense of people. This is an old class war and globalization is the wealthy elite way to wage it.

Enjoy the hatred. It will only grow because of political and economic hatred projected from the wealthy down the pipe at the expense of labor.

Even worse, their actions through politics undermine liberty for all. Instead we worship the bully. The thugs at Enron who pushed the weak around until finally an entire region went in the dark because of their manipulations.

Why wouldn’t I hate a bully and a thug? And that is exactly what many wealthy people look like.

Do you respect South American drug lords? Why not? They earned their wealthy by free market trade didn’t they.

The only wealthy I respect are the ones who earned it by their own labor alone. Through art and personal works, not through the rigged Wall Street gambling debt machine.

I prefer a society that respects liberty and justice instead of wealth. Enjoy your new religion of profit. Beware the Wall Street dogma, it is difficult to leave that church after you join it.

I sell used cars & Im good at it, Im also very young 19, people hate the fact that I work at my dads dealership, drive a differnt cars every few days and spend my money on whatever I want, people also dont like that i choose a sleezy job instead of going to college. But the fact is that I help the economy, let me explain… I recirculate all the money I get on goods & services which creates & maintains jobs, I dont hoard it under my matresse to never be spent, I help keep the car market competitive our dealership has very low overhead & my prices are the lowest in a 100 km or more raduis, I supply people with cars that cant afford a new one for between 2000-5000, I get about 2 complaints a year and there always resolved, believe it or not lol. Also being succesful isnt easy and i dont claim to be a millionaire but I consider my self succesful It takes hard work, skill, long hours, stress, etc. Everyone thinks running a car dealership is easy, far from it 2 out 3 used car dealerships in ontario go bankrupt in the first year or 2. I can see the hate in peoples eyes when they see me selling cars & doing my thing, not all people but a percentage of them because I dont follow the norm and get a job in a factory or go to college and work for a corperation. Id like to say is when I get a rude customer who disapproves of what i do or is jealous I just laugh it off, its harder when its friends or family.

Everyone sems to always want to have everyone the same as them, if this means not successful then that is what they want. No one wants to see someone break from the herd and be successful because then it shows them that hey, if I put some effort into it I could be successful. They want it to come to them. The lottery syndrome I call. They don’t want to work and then magically you get rich.

“very true words”

“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand sums this up very well. A society of people who believe that they are “owed” the wealth of those whose ideas produce it will not last. Every person who is working for anyone else has a CHOICE to work for that company for that offered salary. The value of labor in and of itself is very low, while the value of the mind (of ideas, thoughts, inventions, discoveries) is where the wealth of a society is generated. Only when a society can nurture the use of the mind will it grow and flourish.

Disclaimer: I created a company. I saved up my money for 10 years to execute upon my dream, but I spent every penny I had – even my 401k. I have made zero from this and I am in massive debt, but I have over a dozen people working for me whose families and mortgages depend on the salaries that are provided by my huge gamble. Would I have taken this gamble knowing that the upside would be only more taxes, a theft of the ideas, and more “demands” from those not contributing to it? No. And therefore, there would have been less jobs, less innovation, and eventually a much worse society. Please join me in CELEBRATING all those who risk everything to build an idea into reality – who continue to innovate and provide for the people of society by using their mind.

Of course – success with others is not about wealth. Success is individual. Having unlimited love and compassion for all those around us may bring us more happiness (and thereby success) than any material object may bring. It is my hope that those creating wealth through ideas in any society may also remember to embrace happiness from the creation of success in other forms of the word.

Some comments to the comments:
@Jeff: “…it is not fair to have taxes targeting the wealthy, but I personally believe it is more viable. I base it on simple values, in that a person of extravagant means can more easily afford a higher tax which will also produce a greater amount of money to be utilized than a person of lesser means.”
–> Where does this stop? Note that this is basically the “less fortunate” asking the government to “redistribute the wealth” because the wealthy can afford it. This is just looting and stealing. The taxes increase more and more until it makes no sense for people to even TRY to be wealthy! Then the economy crashes and people wonder why! Note that if I was not taxed as heavily, I could afford to employ even more people – creating even better economic conditions for society!

@Jeff: “It seems lacking of morals, though I personally have “procured” many an office supply from the coffers of the US Army…”
–>Thanks for the humorous self introspection. Morals are morals, no matter what the amounts. We just hear about the large amounts in the newspapers – not the missing office supplies.

@Kyle: “Because the human race is very angry at the success of our brothers… I’d probably be seething mad.”
–> Thanks for recognizing this in yourself, as it exists to some extent in all humans. We must work diligently to love all, and to truly be happy for their success. Embrace it, emulate it, and build it up instead of tearing it down. By comparing ourselves with others, do we judge ourselves to be inferior?! Never! With good self-esteem, you may recognize that while there may be certain TRAITS that may be more or less developed, we as PEOPLE are no different. We are all unique, but none better than another. Are you mad at the other person? Or are you mad at yourself? Are you trying to compare yourself on your perception of a single trait of another? How can you learn from this to still get to your own goals? How can you work WITH this person together? It may be much more beneficial and bring results that will help you, rather than being angry. In fact, is it THIS ATTITUDE that keeps you where you are?

@Cory: “The problem is that I already had more pie than I really needed, so the excess pie kinda gets wasted”
–> Don’t we ALL have more pie than we need? People in Africa are barely living, have little food, no running water, etc. And we in developed countries are upset because SOMEONE ELSE has more pie than they needed. But here we are with televisions, computers, plenty of books, and houses over our heads… Can’t we see that this is all relative? Having “more pie than needed” is only a viewpoint from those having less pie.

@Cory: “Eventually, people start coming to me and asking for pie.. The right thing to do is to give away the excess pie.”
–> How can you say the RIGHT THING is to give it away? In fact, this may teach incorrect values! They may see you with more and WANT you to give it to them (or even vote for a government that FORCES you to give it to them) – but is this RIGHT? Would it not be better to invest it in teaching others how to use their own minds to get their own pie? You have heard it said ‘Give a man a fish, and he will be hungry the next day; teach a man to fish, and he will always have food.’

@Cory: “You see, they may have come up with their own PATs, but since they already had enough pie to start with, they decided not to use the PATs – because it’s the right thing to do. Greed, “an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs,”is a sin, after all. And those people who made a moral choice to not be greedy, are called unSUCCESSFUL. Wouldn’t that make you angry?”
–> Wow. First, we are talking about PATs here that HELP SOCIETY. Things like running water, indoor toilets, telephones for communication, and other ways to do things MORE EFFICIENTLY and with LESS WORK. I am glad I am not out working in a field planting and harvesting by hand for 14 hours a day. I would have no time to reply to these types of comments!! But thanks to all the PATs that have been implemented, we ALL have more free time and an easier life. Not implementing the PATs is not the “right thing to do”. It is either being LAZY or not caring about society and others. Saying greed is a sin… and that greed is to possess more than one “needs”… then means that EVERYONE is greedy. YOU DON’T NEED A TELEVISION. YOU DON’T NEED NEW CLOTHES. YOU DON’T NEED A COMPUTER, or almost anything else you probably own. So, sinner, let’s accept it. I like having my WANTS. I WANT car to go to work so I don’t have to walk for 2 hours each way. This s greedy by your definition. So let’s just say what it is. Let’s not pretend. We all enjoy certain things. The people who don’t have those things call those who DO have those things “Greedy”, and then name it as a “sin”. This is JEALOUSY (another sin, right?) In fact, by eliminating all desires (the things OTHERS have) – we can each become happy with where we are. But by having desires, we all move society forward as we work toward attaining them.

@Cory: “The perception of the unSUCCESSFUL however, is that most of the rich don’t share their wealth. Unless, of course, they are encouraged to do so as a means of protecting that which they are supposedly giving away. It’s nauseating.”
–> True. It is nauseating that these ideas are irrational. And sometimes they are not only “encouraged” but also “forced”. The sum here, when those with wealth must give it away to protect it, is zero. And the sum of such a society with these beliefs will end up as zero. Thanks for the comment!

@Simple: “The hatred is from success at the expense of people. This is an old class war and globalization is the wealthy elite way to wage it. … Enjoy the hatred. It will only grow because of political and economic hatred projected from the wealthy down the pipe at the expense of labor.”
–> I see much hatred from “labor” at the wealthy here. That’s what this article is trying to show. That’s the perception that MUST BE CHANGED for our economic survival. The “people” or “labor” have a CHOICE to work in their job. By using one’s MIND, the value of creation is at its highest. But politics in a democratically-elected government sides with a majority, which will continue to take more and more from those who become wealthy through the implementation of ideas. This will end up having no new ideas implemented, no more thinking, and even less for everyone. Is this what we really want?

Let’s celebrate those who gave us ovens and microwaves and refrigerators, computer chips and cellphones and hard drives, running water and lower-cost transportation. They created great VALUE in our society. Instead of trying to STEAL their wealth from them, let’s create our own value for society – there are truly an INFINITE number of these inventions still left for us to do…

-B

I once resented successful people, until I started to learn that I too could be successful. Once I changed the way that I looked at my capabilities, and realized there wasn’t a “gene” that creates success in the people succeeding, I lost that feeling of distaste for people that were succeeding. Human beings have a pattern of trying something, or wanting something, coming to an inaccurate realization that it’s not possible for them, and then resenting others who have pulled it off. People do this to reduce contradictory thoughts, the thought that it’s possible to achieve success, and then the thoughts that say it isn’t based on an ineffective mind set, strategy or a combination of both, also known as cognitive dissonance. Once people believe something is unattainable to them, it’s easy to criticize it. I don’t believe anyone is wrong here at all, I just believe that human beings can either choose to create their realities, or live the life of accepting what the environment delivers to them. People can learn that they can create their realities by engaging their brains, changing internal paradigms about how the world works and actually physically engaging in the process of creating circumstances, on a consistent enough basis that they actually see results. That shifts mind sets, alters people’s internal maps and creates new understandings of the world.

I belive in america and the right to worship and build a company and get rich. That,s what it is all about succes. belive in your self accel and then give back in jobs and charity. Then someone else can do it all over again. applaud the wealthy for there hard work. Dont be a baby.get out and work hard your self who knows you might be succesful.life is not a hand out, You should applaud when a person makes it out of the barrel. look at the past and honer our for fathers with the same dtermination to do it with out a hand out and the goverment controling you . we are the goverment let use lern from history what is right and wrong you will find valuable lessons on duty honer truth hard work freedom to worship and live the way you choose lets not be one mass of the same and no free thanking or do you whant a nother china worry about your self and what you can do not what your neighbour should do.A strong nation is a safe nation long live our heratige throw out the no morals all the same any thang goes librals the majority rules this counttry not minority stand up and be heard thats what democracy is when did it go back wards when the minority rules us in decay and all be the same tell me whate to do big goverment because im to damMed lazy to stand up and fight the blood succers of this country im an AMERICAN. ACT LIKE ONE

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