As We Better Ourselves We Better The World
Contrary to the thinking of Adam Smith- the father of modern day Economics, I believe self-betterment is the key to achieving a better world. Smith theorised that self-interest through the mechanisms of the “invisible hand” and not public-interest should indirectly bring about a fair distribution of resources by means of the free market system which should result in better public welfare.
This is not to say that the idea of self-interest over public-interest completely lacks merit, my view is rather a stance at taking the alternative and preferred view that the self-betterment approach offers a unique and better solution to the noble quest of making the world a better place; a place in which every individual is offered a fair and equitable opportunity for life fulfilment and pursuit of happiness.
Self-Interest and The Invisible Hand
If you have never heard of Adam Smith or you need your memory refreshed, it is essential to expound on his economic theories a little more, particularly with regards to the free market economy and “the invisible hand”. In his theory, Smith stipulated that we need not concern ourselves with the public interest when seeking to meet societies’ needs and wants. Instead, he advocated that we should provide an economic environment in which all participants are free to pursue their self-interests. It is through meeting their selfish desires, so the theory goes, that participants engaged in the free market system are able to have their needs met by the autonomous effect of the laws of supply and demand.
To put this into perspective, consider the example of a baker, making bread. In this scenario, the baker’s interest is not to make sure you get fresh bread in the morning but it is primarily so that he can earn his keep; but in fulfilling this selfish interest he meets the needs of you and your neighbours. Without turning this post into an Economics lecture, the market- at least so the theory goes, will ultimately also decide what price is ideal for the baker to sell the bread to customers depending on the public demand for it. Smith then reasoned that through this market mechanism, it is almost as if an “invisible hand” is guiding the market activity ensuring that needs and wants are met- almost as if by divine intervention.
If we are going to compare relying on self-betterment against self-interest and the invisible hand, it is important to understand what activities fall under this category. I define self-betterment as a deep seated desire to produce a better version of ourselves in each moment. According to this definition, if you are studying towards getting that higher level qualification or certification, then you are working at self-betterment.
By extension, and considering that a good for an individual can be extended to the collective as long as fairness is the guiding principle, self-betterment will ultimately lead to better livelihoods for those around us. Consequently, in seeking better versions of ourselves in each moment, we better the world. The same applies if you are working hard to achieve that promotional consideration at the work or you decide to embark on an entrepreneurial venture that employs your fellow man. In other words, you are striving for a better you, each and every day and helping others in the process through your interaction with them along the way.
Self-betterment, as you might suspect is never a finished affair. It is a continuous process to be refined over time and for this reason, it needs to be considered as a habit that needs conscious and continuous effort. Often, most of us fall into routines in which we are no longer actively participating in our own lives but rather become passive executioners of activities in which we are not personally and deeply invested in. Perhaps the most important aspect of a self-betterment ritual is improvement accounting.
It is important to keep track of the achievements and milestones you make in your daily efforts towards self-betterment, however small they may be. The reason why improvement accounting is crucial is that it allows us to measure progress over time and also becomes a great source of motivation and helps us avoid falling into a rut where our efforts are not providing positive feedback that encourages us to invest time and effort in ourselves.
Why Self-Betterment Trumps Self-Interest
Although not clear from the outset, since the effect thus far described seems closely identical for both approaches, self-betterment is in my view a preferable and more holistic approach to making the world a better place than self-interest because when we strive to make ourselves better, our efforts are more focussed as they are directed towards an all-encompassing view of ourselves. They are not directed towards a single element of our desires and should provide results that have considerable impact in all major areas of our lives.
Furthermore, self-betterment, when viewed with a balanced outlook, should never have a negative impact on others or the environment in which we find ourselves in. On the other hand, self-interest as advocated by the economic theories of Adam Smith present a lot of wriggle room for self-interest to be achieved at a detrimental cost to others. Such a view can be seen all around us in society where individuals consistently benefit at the unfair or detrimental cost to others or as in recent times at the cost of environmental degradation. The recent scandal of the discovery of Volkswagen’s deceitful manipulations of their diesel car engines which were designed to falsify environmental impact data with regards to carbon emissions when undergoing tests is a good case in point.
Capacity To Follow Through and Need For Change
If you really think about it, we all desire to be better versions of ourselves in each moment even if we do this with varying degrees and with a wide range of apparent measures of success. Despite these differences, most of us should agree that we are not opposed to the idea of making the world a better place. Some introspection should also lead us to the harsh realisation that we perhaps are not doing as much as we should be doing in our efforts to attain better levels of success with self-betterment and hence making the world a better place. Further soul-searching should lead us to the realisation that although the desire to become better versions of ourselves is deeply entrenched in most of us, what is lacking is a willingness and capacity for effective follow-through; which brings us to the subject of change.
It is not enough to simply identify areas in need of improvement. Identifying the need for improvement should be matched with an overwhelming commitment to taking action. Consequently as in all cases where we need to alter patterns of behaviour, we need to acknowledge the necessity for change. Embracing this realisation is the most critical aspect on the path to implementing the necessary changes in our lives on the path to seeking better versions of ourselves each and every moment.
Whilst world-altering acts are remarkable, I believe you may contribute in your own way to making the world a better place simply by striving to better yourself in each moment and once you start doing this, I am confident the world will be a whole lot better for it and because you came this way.