Today I was asked how it felt to profit off people’s pain. It’s not the first time I heard this question. The other time came from a busy male CEO that seemed to sneer at my decision to leave engineering and become a counseling therapist.
Today’s question came from a similarly successful male executive. I felt sad and a little misunderstood. I also couldn’t help but recognize the irony that each of them has a net worth far greater than mine.
Stepping back and looking at the big picture, I began thinking about all of the layoffs around the world; the state of our health from unhealthy fast food and inactivity; the quality of our relationships that compete with technology, addictions, and a relentless desire for instant gratification; and this ubiquitous thing called the “rat race” that deems a large net worth and array of material possessions as a measure of success. Am I profiting or are the people that have created and sustained this “rat race” culture?
The effects of this “rat race” culture are frightening. Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, cites data that indicates narcissism is escalating by 30% since the 1960s. Childhood poverty in the U.S, has also been on the rise since 2000. In fact, almost half of our children are living in families that range from low-income to poverty level. On top of that, our uninsured rate continues to climb. Unemployment is at staggering rates. Not surprisingly, insecurity and the anxiety that stems from this current environment is at an all time high.
The silver lining can be summed up by the adage, when one door closes, another one opens. This national and global crisis is an opportunity to re-focus on what matters. We need to change the “rat race” culture and focus on how we are raising the next generation.
Rather than profit off people’s weaknesses (providing fast food that people can eat in a car…knowing that people procrastinate and will unlikely cancel their subscriptions that renew automatically…manipulating people to reciprocate and purchase a product when given something for free…selling them cosmetic surgeries that feed their insecure-based self-obsession…capitalizing on their fears with unnecessary products…etc., etc.), we all need to come together and make our character and relationships - not money - the measure of our success. When we do, we cultivate empathy and compassion for people. When we do that, we don’t even think of business schemes that hurt people (Ponzi schemes, etc.).
In closing, I am struck by an example Benjamin Franklin gives in his autobiography about how he was raised as a child. During instruction, they were told not to notice the food they were eating or any of the table settings (external items that money buys) but to focus on the lessons and what was “good, just and prudent in the Conduct of Life.” Perhaps that is something we can all practice. Don’t focus on profit in business, but on what is good, just and prudent in the Conduct of Life.
(Please note-All members of the American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association and similar professional therapy organizations have a strict code of ethics that focuses on the client’s well-being over profit. All professionals must also provide a certain percentage of pro-bono and community work. In addition, most of my colleagues, and myself included, have frequently extended our services and waived fees on a case-by-case basis with our clients as needed.)