It’s no secret that status is highly correlated with money. The list of wealthiest people and the list of highest incomes in America are studied each year with great interest. They are the American version of a register of royalty. But the status that money may create is not the same as dignity.
Status is something that is conveyed by other people unto an individual. Dignity is something that individuals convey unto themselves. Dignity is a measure of your self-respect. It must be earned for yourself, and it can’t be taken away by others.
Few things generate self-respect like a dollar earned through honest labor. Fewer teens have jobs now than when I was young. I don’t refer here to child labor, which is exploitation. You don’t see young people delivering newspapers, shoveling driveways or mowing lawns like they did back in the day. As a result, today’s youth don’t have the experience of earning money on their own, and they don’t have the opportunity to earn that self-respect. When humans, especially the young, don’t sacrifice for the money they get, they respect the money less and themselves as well.
The ability to accumulate money out of earnings is a great source of dignity. There are many, many people in this country who make fantastic incomes, but have little or nothing saved. Whether or not people save out of their earnings can be very telling. People who save regularly show discipline and foresight. The increasing value of their savings is a double source of pride – they have earned the money, and they haven’t spent the money. People with little savings, especially if they make a good income, are reminded by their low savings balance that they have failed to exercise self-discipline. In the end, true self-respect is the product of self-discipline.
Earning money is also the world’s way of saying your work is valued. The world at large can be a cold, calculating place. The only consistent way a complex environment like the modern world can tell people thank you for their efforts is to give them money. A paycheck is the world’s most popular thank-you note.
It is important not to place too much emphasis on the size of the paycheck when it comes to assessing your self-worth. Several hedge fund managers “earned” over a billion dollars each in 2007. What compensated one fund manager would have compensated 20,000 teachers. No one, not even the hedge fund manager, is stupid enough to think that those compensation figures accurately reflect the relative contributions of these two jobs to society. Any one of those 20,000 teachers has earned as much dignity as the hedge fund manager, even if they didn’t earn as much money.
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