Restoring Empathy

We live in a gilded time. The appearance of success conceals the shadows of struggle and misfortune. Entrepreneurial success without a conscience has a high cost. It’s possible to detox and do the right things. Social media weaponizes the world to mask reality. Success narratives emerge from chest-thumping and grandstanding. A winner-take-all mindset has unearthed mental illnesses even amongst high performers who feel like failures when they finish 2nd. America’s fast-paced society ignores the humble and wise — who manage well in the shadows and don’t break the rules.

The tv show Ballers is spot on about what many entrepreneurs and young professionals want. Narcissism is celebrated. Giving back is hardly noticed in the highly-popular show. Being rude and crude gathers an audience and a lucrative following on social media. Being nice gets forgotten if one is dependent on books and blogs. The erudite are losing to the illiterate. An awful lot of amoral leaders with backgrounds in entertainment, business, and tech set the tone — impacting the lives of billions who answer to their beck and call if for no other reason than a paycheck. Leaders in government used to stand up to corruption, but appear to be running with the same den of thieves. The moral backbone of civil society turns into jello when the government is run like a business. Checks and balances are in jeopardy. The relative lack of corruption drew millions of immigrants to America. The safety nets of talented newcomers are getting cut every day.

“America” is the Ayn Rand novel which was never written, a hyper-competitive place which embraces survival of the fittest but can be impersonal for gentle souls who prefer to break bread with others. A bad day for a rich guy at home could result in an impulsive decision at the office — where he lays off of thousands of workers, impacting the civic life of an entire city. The cult of personality (a la Elon Musk) has given rise to a fascist version of capitalism. Power is quantified and justified through spreadsheets by someone who may have never completed a course in the humanities and social sciences.

Fortunately, I took many liberal arts courses, but many leading CEOs only have business and engineering degrees. The path to success is paved in gold for metrics-obsessed nerds. The pursuit of riches on the other side of the tracks (or another side of the world) drive their decision-making. Wolves who rule the roost are lionized. Wealth alone might ascertain political success in America whereby it would be frowned upon in many other countries.

America’s villages and rural areas struggle to keep up with large cities. Yet, the same rural areas committed to community life and self-preservation have put their trust in wealthy saviors who only set foot in their neighborhoods with a loudspeaker in hand. The same business titans eager to run government have less proclivity towards a lifestyle based on faith and family values. The rural poor seem mesmerized by wealth and celebrity status. The prosperity gospel wins elections in America and in many parts of the world. Trickle-down economics might help the middle class but it doesn’t help those struggling for food and employment.

As someone who’s connected to many things, I’ve taken a step back. The empathy gap is pervasive and it’s better to focus on ways to get rid of narcissism and shameless capitalism. My time is going towards social impact. All that glitters is not gold. Let’s stop supporting those who only care about promoting themselves and getting rich. It’s time to stop celebrating the culture of personal success and instead, let’s solve global problems for the sake of our children.