"Comparison is the thief of joy." -Teddy Roosevelt
School grades. Income brackets. Spheres of influence. Political clout. Job security. Discretionary spending. Vacation time. Retirement savings. Social media likes. Assets minus liabilities. These are all metrics that our culture has constructed to gauge status and accomplishment. Unfortunately, it is very tempting to become obsessed with the grades and completely miss the lessons of the class--the lessons of life.
The intrinsic worth of life is reflected across multiple cultures and religions. The Buddhists believe that we all possess a "Buddha Nature." In Taoism, each person is a reflection of the Eternal Tao. In Christianity, we are all God's children. The United States was founded on the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The mere idea that any one soul has more worth than another seems preposterous, yet a glance across history would lead us to believe otherwise.
As social creatures we are hardwired to measure status and worth AND desire its accumulation. This is why the richest 10% of people on the planet right now control 85% of the Earth's resources. That means the other 7.2 billion people only own 15% of the world's wealth. Furthermore, half of the world's population (the poorest half) only controls 1% of its riches. Are these people worth less just because they were born into extreme poverty?
Before you get too upset, remember a few key points. The accumulation of wealth is a natural phenomenon (see The 80/20 Principle). In small scale societies, wealth discrepancies are much smaller due to a higher degree of personal interdependence and direct social accountability. However, when the size of the fishbowl expands to 8 billion, centralized authority, social isolation, and institutional corruption make fair distribution all but impossible. Thankfully, there is a silver lining.
When we are grounded in the belief that all humans possess an immeasurable amount of self worth, then our time on this planet is far better judged by the lessons that we learn rather than the wealth that we accumulate. Personally, I have seen the destructive power of too much success (in finances, beauty, physical pursuits, or academics). It can lead us to attach our self worth to something hollow and fleeting.
I'm not saying that attaining goals is unimportant. I'm saying that success is secondary to fully participating in the richness of becoming the best possible version of ourselves. Therefore, I propose an updated net worth equation: Net Worth = Self Worth + Hard Work + Learning + People Helped - Time Spent Comparing Ourselves to Others. In this way we can regain perspective on what matters most in this world of souls.