Paychecks and Self-Worth: Determining Society’s Winners and Losers

4 Jul

A wise man once told me that, “No one will ever pay you what you’re worth. So find something you enjoy and do it.” It’s sound advice – especially in a world where so many of us mistakenly confuse our worth as human beings with our worth as units of labor. Indeed, for far too many, the greatest workplace struggle isn’t conflict between ourselves and our coworkers, getting along with a difficult boss, or adjusting to long work hours. Instead, it’s overcoming the sense that our value as individuals is somehow tied to the number of digits on our paycheck.

This isn’t surprising, since popular culture all too frequently perpetuates this confusion, labeling individuals as “winners” or “losers” based upon income and lifestyle. The winners are those who have demonstrated initiative by getting an education, making good money, and living a lifestyle of comfort and luxury. They are those who contribute to the economic and material prosperity of our society. The losers, on the other hand, are the undereducated and the underpaid – those who provide, at best, only a limited financial benefit and serve to consume that which is produced by others.

This message that individuals can be labeled as either “winners” or “losers” based upon their annual pay begins to penetrate our psyche sometime in grade school; If you want to be “worth something” as an individual, you need to be a contributor. To be a contributor, you need to make money. And to make money, you need an education.

The National Center for Education Statistics tells us that, on average, a 25-34 year old who is employed full-time can expect to earn $45,000 a year… provided they possess a coveted Bachelor’s degree. Those with High School degrees, however, are unlikely to earn much beyond $23,000. Because higher wages equal a greater contribution to the economic well-being of the country, higher education is encouraged. Those who don’t pursue a degree often feel demeaned by those who did. After all, they’re merely a drain on the resources made available by these “benevolent” producers.

Sadly, those who subscribe to the perspective that income determines society’s winners and losers demonstrate a dangerous lack of understanding. Why dangerous? Because it has the ability to influence workplace attitudes – stirring up dissatisfaction and malcontent where, in reality, there ought to be gratification and fulfillment. Fortunately, this “winner-loser” scenario is deeply at odds with both the teaching of Scripture and basic economic principles… and we’ll be taking a look at both in the coming weeks.

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