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Why There is Envy of the More Successful and Affluent in Our Society

Updated on December 27, 2012
gmwilliams profile image

Grace loves to write commentaries on psycho-cultural and sociocultural dynamics in their myriad forms.


The Cult of Averageness in American Society

People who are more successful and/or more affluent are often the objects of derision in American society. Even though highly successful and/or more affluent people are respected for their ability to achieve their goals, many people are threatened by their success. Successful and more affluent people threaten the average person's comfort level and threshold.

American society exhort the average person. The average person is the all around person. He/she is happy with his/her station in life. American society admonish us that it is good to have goals but not too lofty goals. When people are highly successful and very affluent, people maintain that they are getting conceited, arrrogant, and high and mighty. Furthermore, it is the thought of the average person how dare they want to be highly successful and/or affluent.

This societal admonition against being highly successful often starts in childhood. Smart and highly intelligent children are often derided by other children. They are called negative perojatives such as "smarty pants" , "nerd", "conceited", "egghead", and other related names. Intellectualism and being smart is clearly not respected in American culture. Smart and highly intelligent children are often shunned and sometimes bullied by their peers. Averageness is the name of the game as children prefer their peers and classmates to be like them.

Even teachers and other adult figures in a child's life feel threatened if he/she is smart and highly intelligent. Teachers and other adult figures particularly parents prefer that children in their charge and/or care be like other children. For example, Oprah Winfrey as an exceedingly smart and intelligent child related that she was told by her mother to stop reading so much and play outside like other children.

In junior high and high school, many smart and highly intellectual children are often ostracized by other students. When I attended high school, I remember a schoolmate who was the smartest at the school. Other students consistently derided her and called her pejorative and derogatory names. She hardly had any friends at the school. However, she did not let the other students' derision and jealously deter her.

Many teenagers are highly conformist and wish to be like everyone else in their peer group. The worst thing for a teenager is to stand out for any reason. There are some teenagers who hide their intellectual acumen to be part of the group. During the junior high and high school period, tweens and teens are the most susceptible to peer influence. Many teenagers are afraid to be smart and intellectual because they believe that they will lose their friends or worse, be ostracized and/or bullied.

In a new study by Lisa Williams, a graduate student at Ohio State University, it authenticated that smart and highly intelligent Black and Latino students tend to be bullied because other Black and Latino students view them as threatening to their status quo. Not so long ago, 16 year old honor student Derrion Albert, who attended Chicago's Fenger School, was beaten up and killed by fellow schoolmates on his way home from school. At the college level and beyond, being smart and highly intelligent is de rigueur and a part of higher education.

In adulthood, there is often envy of people who are highly successful and affluent. Many people feel very uncomfortable about highly successful and affluent people because it is simply not in their cultural milieu. Most people prefer to be at a certain success and socioeconomic level. Furthermore, they are more comfortable with people who have similar success and socioeconomic level as they have.

Larry Winget, employment and business adviser and speaker, stated that people often have friends with similar success and socioeconomic levels. Mr. Winget further asserted that if a person wishes to becoming more successful and affluent, it is best to ditch these people and have friends who aspire to be more successful and affluent. However, let us not digress. People are comfortable with those who are like minded as they are and feel threatened by people who disturb this status quo.

Oftentimes, highly successful and more affluent people sever relationships with family and old friends because the family members and friends sent messages of wanting them to remain at the same success and socioeconomic level as them. Many family members and friends are very threatened if a family member or friend obtain success and/or a socioeconomic level beyond theirs because it threatens the group comfort level. It may be the opinion of the family members and friends that "no one" in their circle succeeded or obtained an economical level beyond what is prescribed within the familial or friendship circle. Such family members and friends feel that it is an affront for a family member or friend to be successful or obtain socioeconomic levels beyond theirs.

Many people glorify in the fall and disgrace of the affluent and successful. Let at the newspapers and the tabloids. People like nothing better to see a celebrity and/or a famous person falls from grace or have difficulty in his/her life. People have a perverted glee in seeing more successful and affluent people "suffer".

Many people envy the more successul and affluent among us because they are of the mindset that life should be a constant struggle. They believe that the affluent life is an extravagant and hedonistic life. They further believe that affluent people are "spoiled " because they do not have to struggle as they do. They have inundated with the philosphy that being affluent is morally wrong and that struggle is morally superior.

Many people are further inculcated that success and money are covetous and evil acts. This inundation result in them being fearful and afraid to succeed and to become more affluent. These are the same people who view more successful and more affluent people as characterless and amoral. This mindset is a result of American Puritan thought that life is not to be enjoyed but ought to be a constant uphill battle to survive. Most people are actually striving and surviving instead of living at their utmost success and socioeconomic potential.

Many people are also afraid of their own greatness and uniqueness, having being raised to conform and not to threaten the status quo of their particular ingroup. Because of this indoctrination, they are content to be average and to achieve such levels of success and socioeconomic status. They are often afraid to venture beyond their purview and they do not want to lose the inclusion of their particular ingroup. They would rather be safe and sorry than to venture to achieve their success and socioeconomic dreams.

In conclusion, many people envy the highly successful and affluent because such people threaten their comfort level. Many people are highly comfortable being average because most of their family, friends, and associates are average. People want to be part of the group because they feel more secure.

This inundation to be average and not stand out begin in childhood. Children want to conform with their group. Children who are smart and highly intelligent are often viewed as threatening to the other children. Oftentimes, smart and higly intelligent children are ostracized and/or worse bullied. This pack behavior is more prevalent during the tween and teen period where conformity to the group and being average is de rigueur.

Many adults envy highly successful and affluent people because they are living the lifestyle that they wish to live but are too risk adversive to implement. Some adults are further inundated that success and affluence are immoral and that struggle is morally superior. Still many more people knowing that they can do better; however, they would be rather be safe and mediocre than to take a risk and achieve success and socioeconomic levels beyond their wildest dreams.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      This also happens in American dating, relationships, and marriages. No one wants a spouse more successful, affluent, and attractive than they are because they feel that person won't be there for them at all and that the person will leave them which leads to domestic violence and divorce. To be a good spouse, you have to be mediocre and average. If you stand out and are unique, nobody will trust you at all. Instead, they will abuse you, especially if you are multilingual and/or multicultural, for example. Like you said, America is a cult of being average and in order to marry an American, you have to be average or mediocre. Americans don't trust anyone more successful, affluent, and attractive because they are very insecure on average compared to Europeans for example.

    • gmwilliams profile imageAUTHOR

      Grace Marguerite Williams 

      6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Thank you for your response. I always love your synopsis of my hubs. I, too, do not envy the rich and successful. I am happy with my life as is and if I want something, I usually work for it! Envy is such a waste of time, energy, and emotions.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      6 years ago from North Texas

      I don't consider myself average, nor do I give a damn about belonging to any group. So far as I know I don't belong to any group, my IQ is 180, and I'm possibly the most contrary person you will ever know even indirectly through this venue.

      I have no wish to get on an airplane or a ship and travel the world, so I don't envy people who must drink their own breast milk or undress for strangers to be inspected before boarding a plane -- and pay for those humiliating privileges as well. I believe that is one of the things people envy the wealthy for?

      I have no use for a mansion -- who's going to clean it? Not me. I have had cleaning people, but rarely can they follow orders to my satisfaction and I've decided I don't like them digging around in my personal possessions in order to 'clean' them. So I have to keep things simple to avoid the need for a cleaning crew.

      I would never let anyone else mess with my nails - toe or fingers. Have you seen what a fungus can do because practitioners didn't sterilize their equipment properly? No thanks.

      What exactly do the wealthy have that a thinking person would want? Cameras and microphones targeting them continually? No thank you.

      So far as I can tell, the only thing the wealthy have is money that can buy freedom, but for some reason most of them don't choose to buy freedom. Instead they choose to buy a whole lot of garbage instead.

      What I object to regarding the wealthy is how they got their money off the backs of the working class by paying them poverty wages and providing no benefits. By making them work under conditions that they would be fined and possibly jailed for putting animals through. Don't tell me it ain't so, because I've been there and done that. I've worked as a peon for several different companies and I know exactly how peons are treated and the awful conditions they must too often work under.

      My objection is that most rich people get their money off the backs of the working class, but feel no urge to give back in order to make life better for those people who helped them make and maintain their millions in the first place.

      More than 50,000 people are left to die in the U.S. every year because they have no access to healthcare and that's the way the wealthy like it. That's more than 3 people every hour dying because emergency rooms don't treat chronic conditions until they're acute. Often then, it's too late.

      If the wealthy didn't like people dying by the hundreds, they would pay a living wage and offer decent healthcare benefits to their employees and to the people who made them millionaires in the first place.

      Will ObamaCare resolve these issues? It remains to be seen when there are no cost cutting measures in the Affordable Care Act as required by the Republicans in order to pass it.

      Healthcare is just the beginning. Then there is education, food and shelter, all of which cost more than the minimum wage will pay for, and all of which some people want to place beyond the reach of the working class.

      Not everyone who wants to punish people for being poor are wealthy, but they are wanna-bes. Too bad they can't be poor themselves and discover that being poor is a punishment of the worst kind all in itself.

      My issue with the wealthy people of this world is how they make their money in the first place and how they are irresponsible in their moral duty to those less fortunate. The rich use, abuse, and discard people like old fast food wrappers when they're done with them.

      When even one person improves their situation through education or employment or better health, we are all better off. By the same token, when even one of us is in need of one or more of these things and can't get it, everyone is dragged down. There is more to life and society than just money, and the price we all pay is often higher than the value of money when we let someone fall by the way.

      When we lower ourselves down to the level of mean spirited, heartless people, we are no better than the worst criminals because we are thinking and behaving like them even if we don't share their cell, and I'm not talking about a phone.

      As for being derided for being smart, that was never a problem until recent times when as you say, being mediocre seems to be everyone's goal. I was the top of my class all through school and held as an example, looked up to because of my achievements and ability. Now, several years later and having been a nontraditional student at the university, people resent those same achievements. They look for ways to point out that despite grades and other achievements, they are really the smarter ones.

      I like to look for the good and the exceptional in everyone, not the reverse. It seems to me that everyone is exceptional in their own way and it makes more sense to me to point out exceptional skills and talents in other people and build them up so they will try harder, than to look for and point out shortcomings just for the sake of trying to build myself up at the expense of other people.

    • gmwilliams profile imageAUTHOR

      Grace Marguerite Williams 

      6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Another typo which was corrected and changed to a more relevant phrase.

    • profile image

      just saying 

      6 years ago

      the phrase is too big for their "britches," NOT "bridges." I couldn't read past that....

    • DimitriLive profile image


      7 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Great stuff!! It is so true that when other less successful people encounter the successes of their peers, it causes them to take a look at themselves, which oft times is a painful reminder of just how mediocre they are.


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