bY TIM MIDDLETON
Many years ago, contestants in the Miss World beauty pageants always seemed to be asked what their ambition was. Generally, the predictable answer was that they wanted to be happy but some did pronounce boldly that their ambition was for world peace — quite how they were going to achieve this goal was never fully discussed, it has to be said, but it was certainly a lofty and noble ambition (if true)!
Interestingly, none of them said they wanted to win the Miss World contest; it seemed their eyes were on a bigger target! However, clearly, they wanted to be successful.
Children are also always asked what they want to be or do when they grow up. Their aspirations are generally good, wholesome and necessary and in time lead to ambitions. Most youngsters also say they want to be successful. Actually, many more young people today say they want to be famous, not so much successful, but that is their way of saying successful. The fact is that they want to be famous, and thus appear to be successful, without actually doing anything, as many “celebrities” appear to be a celebrity just for being themselves, not for achieving any great accomplishment.
And of course, schools and parents alike are always wanting and encouraging their children to strive for success (no doubt as it will look good for them too, but that is another story).
They want their children to succeed, to strive to reach the top (though as some have observed, there is not much point in reaching the top of the ladder if it is leaning against the
wrong wall). It is all about success.
The problem with being successful is that only a few can achieve it, so we are left with dealing with the millions who are not successful. What becomes of them? Rather we should be
teaching our children to be faithful, to do what they can with what they have, to do their best, not to be the best. Everyone can be faithful, even if our abilities differ. Progress
(which everyone can achieve) is more meaningful, relevant and helpful than success.
A further problem with striving to be successful, with such ambition, is that it is generally selfish — it is all about self, self-achievement, self-aggrandisement, self-advancement.
That by itself is perhaps not an issue, as we are certainly responsible for our welfare and life. However, the fact (indeed, the problem) is that we live in community, in society, not
in isolation, and therefore one person’s ambition will clash or compete with another person’s ambition. Yes, there is nothing wrong with advancing, with achieving — that is wholesome.
The problem is that it comes at a cost; if one person is going to be successful, it will come at the expense of another. And we have to live with them.
It would be of much greater benefit if we taught our children not to be successful but to be significant, to serve. We should be teaching our children, building them up, to be
Their lives need to produce fruit — and fruit is meant for the benefit of others. Fruit is not to remain on a tree but is to be enjoyed, experienced, tasted and used, by many, for their benefit.
So our children must look to be fruitful rather than successful. Their lives must produce good fruit.
We have been likening in previous articles our children to buildings.
The bottom line about buildings is this: they are built for a purpose and they are built for service.
They are built for the benefit of others. There are hundreds of different buildings but their purpose is to serve other people.
Hotels, garages, shops, offices, schools, sports arenas, factories, churches, even toll booths are built as a means of contributing to society, of playing their part, of serving the community. We need them all.
If the only buildings we were to build were houses we would not get very far. So in a similar way, we will not get very far if we only build for our own sake; we must build for society and community and family. Success is only about self; service is about others.
Children who are taught to serve others, to be of benefit of others, be that world peace or personal growth, are “a thing of beauty” and will contribute to, ultimately as well as consequentially, individual and communal happiness.
They will be the ones who will wear the crowns. We must not build ivory towers, where people cut themselves off from the rest of the world, interested only in their own welfare, pursuing their own success. Otherwise they will climb the ladder and discover that they are at the top of a building that is of no use or relevance — maybe like Miss World contests.