Are We a Generation of Enablers and a Society Looking for Handouts?
Recently, while visiting Union Station in St. Louis with my family, we observed a large goldfish pond that housed hundreds of fish. This doesn’t sound too unusual, but after standing around the pond for a few minutes, we noticed that whatever side of the pond we would walk to, the fish would follow. Later, I found out that goldfish become conditioned through repetitive behavior, and they learn to swim toward whatever they believe to be a source of food. It was pretty strange seeing entire schools of fish, literally piling over the top of each other to follow us, hoping a handout was on its way.
Of course, who can blame the fish for acting that way? They don’t have a lot of choices. They’ve been put in a huge pond, rely on people to feed them, and that’s pretty much their lot in life. This whole goldfish scenario made me think about our society and the ways we are conditioned (and condition others) every day. Sometimes the effects are positive, but often, the things that are meant to be beneficial, can imprison us and we end up living in our own self imposed fishpond, unaware that there are other options available to us. Let me explain.
Disclaimer: Okay, I’m probably going to step on a few toes today, so I hope you have your work boots on.
The Fishpond of Government Assistance
I am not an expert on fish, or their ability to survive on their own in the wild once they’ve been conditioned to rely on people, but if you’ve watched any amount of Discovery Channel, you are probably aware of the fact that wild animals raised in captivity often become unable to fend for themselves if released into their natural habitat. Why? They’ve been conditioned, enabled, and have lost their ability to act as they were created to. Can we say the same thing about government anti-poverty assistance? I think so.
USA Today recently reported that the number of Americans receiving some form of government anti-poverty assistance is higher than ever before.
- More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid
- Over 40 million receive food stamps (almost a 50% increase since the economic downturn)
- Close to 10 million receive unemployment benefits
- More than 4.4 million Americans are on welfare
Yes, we are in a recession. Yes, times are hard. But the tough question here is whether or not all this anti-poverty assistance actually serves to help us, or whether it hinders our initiative and resourcefulness to do for ourselves.
I realize there are people whose life circumstances have been so tragic that they require a certain amount of assistance to improve their condition. There are also the handicapped and those who don’t have the mental faculties to operate in society. I’m not here to argue that. Let’s take those situations out of the equation. What I am pointing out is the fact that people in financial distress are not passive beings incapable of seizing new opportunities or reassessing where they went wrong and changing their circumstances. Often, efforts to assist, can actually hold back another person’s ability to make it on their own. This happens with our children as well.
Are We Boxing in Our Children?
It’s sort of ironic, in a sad way, that so many of us call today’s youth the “entitlement generation.” We look at them, almost in astonishment, that many expect a new cell phone every six months, an upgraded computer at regular intervals, and a free ticket to almost anywhere they want to go in life. Of course, not all youth operate in this fashion, but for those who do, –how do you think they arrived here?
If you look at society through the generations, you’ll see there is a cycle that often occurs. It will generally start with a generation who overcomes extreme hardship and scraps their way to success. The generation right after that will have some of the same traits and drive, but often by the third generation, much of the determination to succeed has been lost. Why does this occur? Partly, I believe, due to the sheer fact that the third generation didn’t have to scrap their way to success. Without any obstacles, it’s often tough to figure out what you are made of.
On top of an absence of obstacles, there is also the fact that parents always want better things for their children than they had, which of course, is not a bad thing. It’s normal. But we often overcompensate by providing our children with all the things we never had. Here again is a situation that can contribute to the “fishpond mentality.”
Our children aren’t seeing through our eyes. When they are born, they are a clean slate. They are learning from a totally different viewpoint than the one we are teaching from. We see that we had to ‘get by’ or ‘go without’ a lot of things when we were growing up, so we want to bless our children with those things. But since they don’t have our experiences to take into consideration, all they see is, “Hey, my mom and dad give me whatever I want. I’m constantly showered with stuff. This is great.” The problem with that is the fact that it teaches our children absolutely nothing about real life. Things won’t be handed to them in life, so they shouldn’t be handed to them now. The best thing we can do for our children is to stop enabling them. Allow them to earn what they have. This will give them a sense of pride and a sense of self worth. We are doing them a huge disservice when we hand them all of life’s accessories free of charge.
As humans, we have a great ability to adapt, overcome, and succeed, even with all the odds stacked against us. I believe when society, the government, or parents enable individuals, it actually retards their ability to adapt, just like the animals who are raised in captivity.
When the Going Gets Tough
I also believe that victory and success is so much more fulfilling when there are obstacles to overcome. I mean let’s face it, everyone is going to have some sort of obstacle to face. Here are just a few who overcame. They took the cards that were dealt to them, which weren’t pretty, and chose success anyway:
- Nelson Mandela spent 27 yrs in prison. After his release, he successfully ended apartheid in South Africa, received the Nobel Peace Prize, and was elected president.
- Michael Jordan was told by his high school coach that he should try something else. Basketball just wasn’t his thing.
- Dr Seuss was rejected by 23 publishers.
- Dr. Wayne Dyer grew up in foster homes, yet he always believed he could get anything in life that he set his mind to. His self-help books have sold millions.
Becoming Financially Secure
Of course, you didn’t think the financial side of it would go unmentioned, did you? Bringing the whole problem of enabling over to the financial world, I see a lot of uncertainty in today’s society. First, there are many who fear that Social Security benefits will come to an end and that their current 401(k) plans aren’t going to provide them with the necessary finances to survive. It’s a big topic of discussion, but what are we doing about it? I mean, aside from shaking our heads at the sad possibility, what are we actually doing about it?
Then there are those who feel that investment strategies just don’t work anymore and the market hasn’t done anything in the past ten years, which is completely incorrect. But, the point is, many are focusing on these boundaries and limitations, instead of setting goals and focusing on solutions.
For example, with your current plan of action, you may not have the funds you need when retirement age hits. What are you going to do about it? What other opportunities are available to you? Are you in debt? Are you overspending? Can you put a wealth building strategy together for yourself?
If you’ve followed our blog for any length of time, you realize that markets are proven to work over time, and investments offer the largest possible rate of return. Maybe it’s going to take some education on your part. Maybe you don’t understand how the market really works, or maybe you have been listening to a financial advisor who was nothing more than a salesperson pushing products. Maybe it’s going to take more than investing for you. You may need to start a business or maybe you are finishing your education.
Whatever the scenario, use your resources wisely. Don’t let the poverty mentality overtake you and cause you to live in lack. I talk a lot about perspective during my public speaking events and I’ll tell you, perspective is key. If there is a problem, you’ve got to look at the problem as an opportunity to grow, to find a new way of doing things, to enlarge your vision. Don’t look at Social Security problems or your current lack of knowledge with investment strategies as defeat. Every day is a new opportunity for growth and for success. Let’s make the decision today that we will do whatever it takes to experience success. It’s up to each one of us.
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