On accomplishments

2011-01-19

in Daily updates, Economics

Accomplishments are probably the best possessions.

Physical things are a pain. They constrict where you can live, since they take up space and are a bother to relocate. They are always at risk of being stolen, burned, destroyed by water, or otherwise rendered worthless. Many of them break or become useless simply through the passage of time – a fate that is particularly likely for anything electronic or technological. They do confer enjoyment and social status, but do so to less and less of a degree as one acquires more and more of them.

Financial resources are also insecure. They do provide their owners with some measure of security, since they have means of responding to many different types of crisis. At the same time, they are always at risk themselves: at risk of being rendered worthless by inflation; at being taken away by well-meaning redistributionists, criminal governments, or ordinary thieves; and at risk of being lost or rendered worthless as part of a general societal catastrophe, such as a major war or ecological collapse.

While accomplishments cannot be called upon directly in the way a bicycle or a savings bond can, they are the basis for non-pathological self-esteem. Sure, there are people who think themselves to be superstars for tautological reasons (“I believe I am the greatest human ever, therefore I must be!”). Perhaps having a bit of that is even personally helpful or beneficial. Ultimately, though, one’s accomplishments are a more objective measure of both absolute and relative human worth. They are also part of a set of experiences that forms the basis for good judgment, though good judgment is probably something that is generated more in response to failures than in response to successes.

In the end, it seems sensible that people should prioritize the achievement of things, rather than the accumulation of either financial or other assets. One should have enough physical possessions to be able to make the most of day-to-day life: getting around and undertaking the various activities that are necessary and enjoyable. Similarly, one should have sufficient financial resources to meet one’s needs, those of one’s dependents, and those that may arise from misfortune. Once that level is met, however, it is probably healthier and more human to keep pushing out the boundary of one’s accomplishments, rather than expanding the sphere of one’s material or financial possessions.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Byron Smith January 19, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Accomplishments are better than things, but better than both are relationships.

Milan January 19, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Relationships can be seen as a kind of accomplishment. Same goes for interesting experiences.

Byron Smith January 19, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Equally, it is possible to conceive of most worthwhile accomplishments under the heading of relationships. It depends on what you wish to emphasise. Accomplishments (to my mind) speaks of a static entity, something in the past that can sit on one’s metaphorical trophy shelf as “done”. Relationships, on the other hand, seem dynamic and ongoing, inviting continual focus and growth.

oleh January 20, 2011 at 3:01 am

I agree that that healthy relationships are the best of accomplishments, and generally within one’s control.

R.K. January 20, 2011 at 5:54 pm

It seems a bit demeaning to think of relationships as ‘accomplishments’. The description makes me think about a hunter with deer heads mounted on wooden boards on his walls.

oleh January 21, 2011 at 3:33 am

Good point , R.K. I did not express myself well.

alena January 21, 2011 at 10:42 am

I think that after period of attributing great worth to “individualism,” societies are again looking for “community;” relationships that are lasting and meaningful. When many of the things that used to be certain become not so, people find a renewed sense of optimism and meaning in relationships with others. Material goods become less important as we age, except for the ones that have a sentimental value tied to friendship or special experience.

Emily January 22, 2011 at 9:25 pm

“Ultimately, though, one’s accomplishments are a more objective measure of both absolute and relative human worth.”

I would say that “human worth” is always objectively equally valuable across all people. I think that’s the basis of democracy, humanism, liberalism. The human worth of a homeless person with no relationships, and the human worth of the person helping them with potentially many relationships is objectively the same.

I think perhaps, feelings of self-worth are the only attributions of worth we should be concerned with ‘measuring’ between us.

Antonia January 24, 2011 at 6:04 am

Conversely, my lack of accomplishments may well explain why I cling to things so tightly. A realistic prospect of further accomplishments or more confidence in my ability to achieve more may make me less tied to my possessions (which would be a good thing imo – I won’t always live somewhere so large).

Anon April 18, 2012 at 12:00 am

Financial resources are also insecure.

This is true, but people get struck by disasters whether they have savings to help them or not. You never know when an emergency requiring thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars might crop up.

oleh April 18, 2012 at 5:12 am

A sense of peace and of a live well lived can be accomplishment. I particularly notice that among people towards the end of their lives.

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