In my last column, I discussed “inverted responsibility” and writer Matthew Stewart’s contention that the wealthiest 10% of Americans systematically prevent the rest of us from achieving economic success.
“How?” you might ask.
Stewart’s reasoning is so tortured – his connection with reality so tenuous – that I can only refer you to his cover story in the June 2018 issue of The Atlantic. (He has also written a book on the topic, due out later this year.)
But here’s an example…
Stewart rightly points out that the poor in this country have greater health problems and significantly shorter lives than the rest of us.
Is this because the rich have denied them access to hospitals, doctors and medicines?
No. The primary reason is that people living under the poverty line suffer from an epidemic of obesity and, in particular, morbid obesity.
(The fourth most frequently bought item with food stamps is “bagged snacks” like potato chips and pretzels. The first is soda.)
Obesity often leads to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke.
This is tragic. But it’s hard to fathom how the upper class is responsible for what the rest of us put in our mouths.
Fostering a sense of grievance and victimhood rarely benefits anyone. In fact, it leads to anger… and even violence.
Scholar Bernard Lewis once noted that throughout the history of the Western world, whenever things went wrong, people asked, “What did we do wrong and how can we set it right?”
Yet as a leading historian of the Middle East, he noted that Islamists often looked at their problems quite differently. The predominant question was “Who did this to us?”
Stewart wants the poor to look at the rich the way jihadis look at “infidels” – or the Nazis looked at the Jews – as the source of all their problems.
This is not just wrong. It’s sick.
Moreover, this kind of scapegoating doesn’t solve problems. It makes them worse.
What does make things better? The opposite mindset. I call it “radical responsibility.”
It means taking complete responsibility in every sphere of your life, from your personal relationships to your work life to your health and finances.
Most people do not want to do this.
They prefer to blame their parents, their spouse, their ex, their children, their boss, their co-workers, their neighbors, “the rich.”
This is not to say there aren’t times when our lives are significantly impacted by other people or circumstances.
Maybe you are a great worker who lost your job due to the pandemic or corporate downsizing. Maybe your parents truly were bad role models. Maybe your boss really is a racist.
But it’s only when you choose to focus on what you can do and how you should act that you gain power.
In the financial realm, whether your problem is joblessness, overspending, a lack of saving or poor investments, you move closer to a solution the moment you say “I am responsible.”
It is impossible to say these words and still feel angry and powerless. The very act of taking responsibility short-circuits and cancels out negative emotions.
Businesses and other organizations today are looking for men and women who are willing and able to think, who are self-directing and self-managing, who respond to problems proactively rather than complaining or waiting for someone else to act.
A study done in New York a few years ago found that people who ranked in the top 3% in every field had a special attitude that set them apart from average performers in their industries.
It was this: They chose to view themselves as self-employed throughout their careers, no matter who signed their paychecks.
That caused them to set goals, make plans, establish measures and get results.
Radical responsibility changes everything. It means you own your thoughts, feelings and actions. You are accountable for the consequences they bring and the impact they have on others.
This is not a burden, incidentally. It’s an honor to take ownership of your actions. It creates freedom and control. It gives meaning to life.
Self-reliance is the great source of personal power. We create ourselves, shape our identity and determine the course of our lives by what we are willing to take responsibility for.
And in my column next Friday, I’ll show you how to take radical responsibility and turn it into financial freedom…