Big Britches and the Beggar’s Bowl

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Now we know it’s true. The Kellogg School of Management has issued a study (hat tip: Rich Becker) that shows the more social connections one has, the more likely they are to treat others as less than. We see that big britches are a common by-product of doing well online. So all of the big bloggers who protest, “Not I,” really need to take a serious gut check.

Here’s the truth about this phenomena: It is timeless. It’s the stuff of novels and movies. Anyone read Faust lately?

Now we’re just seeing hot shot-itus played out on a very public stage with our colleagues, people who take tens of thousands of followers and the attention that comes with it all too seriously. It’s sad watching success change people, really.

It’s also sad that connectedness makes one feel better than other people. It fulfills a need to feel important. Yet twitter shout-outs, klout scores, blog rankings, etc. provide an empty sense of pleasure.

The whole phenomena is reminiscent of the old buddhist tale of the Beggar’s Bowl. A King eager to demonstrate his power fills a beggar’s bowl with silver, but it is not enough. As soon as the bowl is filled, it empties to the dismay of the monarch. There is always a need for more to fill it. The bowl is a metaphor for human desire.

In the real world, most of my friends are government contractors, ex-military types and general contractors (a.k.a. construction). We don’t really talk about social media, marketing and the Internet much. I come off like Spock when we do.

I’m actually grateful that most of my real life friends are not in the same field, that they have have known me for years, decades even. They keep me honest. I always know where I came from, and where I was 16 years ago when I was still an entry level writer working in yet another DC area trade association.

The truth about personal desire for fulfillment by peer recognition: The greatest successes are when others learned from our work, writing, and advice. When they are able to use our experiences to affect change, strengthen communities and/or make a better, happier world, we become stronger. We grow together, and in that sense, using our time as an investment in each other is the greatest gift possible.

That’s it. It’s help others, or it’s nothing.

Fame, awards, prestige, etc. are short sighted, unsustainable sources of pleasure. Money is necessary to feed our families, but that, too, does not make the soul stronger. Nothing else fills that giant hole in the bowl. Only the socially responsible outcomes seem to work, at least for me.

4 Replies to “Big Britches and the Beggar’s Bowl”

  1. Hear, hear, Geoff! Well said, indeed.

    How thin is the veneer of success when we reach that elevated bar on the backs of others! The ultimate benefit of raising the bar is realized by building up the foundation, not distancing one’s self from one’s peers.

    True success, then, is helping others achieve success, and greatness, helping them to help still others achieve success, and so on. Thank you for sharing this belief, sir.

  2. Geoff, 

    I really love that story, always have. It seems to me social media is especially alluring to people because it seems so easy. We just sign up, sign in, chat it up, and suddenly people supposedly hang on our every word. 

    But it’s an illusion to mistake social for significance. People who do earn it. People who talk about people who do, really don’t.

    I’ve been thinking about influence and how it relates to families, recently. I asked myself how often I ‘influence’ my children. Nah, I’d rather earn their respect. 

    You have mine. 


    1. Thanks, Rich. We have seen this thing go from 0-60 and are now together looking at the aftermath and what a strange ride it has been.  I am glad to have walked the path with you, and to have emerged on the other side with good values in tact.  Not all of our peers fared so well.  With respect in return!

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