What Do You Need In Your Bowl?

Wherever you are on the ladder in life, it’s natural to compare your lot to those on the rungs above and below you. But as the comic-philosopher Louis C.K. pointed out to his daughter in an episode of his show, this almost always ends badly.

He pointedly tells her, “The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.” (See the full clip below.)

In Harry Frankfurt’s persuasive book, On Inequality, he suggests that the real debate we should be having is not about equality but about “sufficiency.” In other words, “What do we all need for a good life?” To make his point, he says that if tomorrow each person in America suddenly had an equal amount of money, but everyone was at the poverty line, we would have technically solved the problem of inequality. But nobody would be better off for it.

When we talk about inequality, it tends to pit one person against another — in essence, asking everyone to look at each other’s buckets. Judgements, conflicts and defensiveness ensue.

We know why inequality is such a critical topic. After all, there is a finite amount of resources to go around.

But perhaps a better conversation might focus on shared values and how to make sure we all have what we need in our bowls for a good and happy life.

To learn more about Moving Up, go to movingupusa.com.

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