Thanks to level three Lockdown 4.0, meaning, of course, I live in Auckland, NZ, I took the time to re-read Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book, Outliers.

It was a rewarding and thought provoking read the first time, but it was even better and more rewarding the second time as I absorbed more of the insights laid out by Gladwell.

While Gladwell is not without his critics; he is often accused of oversimplification and placing an emphasis on anecdotal evidence.  However, I think conclusions to the information provided make sense in a very accessible way.

Gladwell quotes from the bible: “For unto everyone that hath shall be given and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath.” (Matthew 25:29, as quoted in ‘Outliers’ in the chapter: The Matthew Effect.)

People Don’t Rise from Nothing

The nub of Gladwell’s rationale for using this passage is that “people don’t rise from nothing.” He posits that we owe something to parents and to patronage. He suggests the culture we belong to and the legacies handed to us (our environment) helps to shape our patterns of behavior.  In other words, we are not alone but, rather the product of a village that may be generations deep.

This got me to thinking about how I ended up where I am now, as a recently retired 67-year-old. In financial terms, I am comfortable. Was it happenstance that I find myself in this position?

Having reflected on the Matthew quote, the answer is emphatically no.

Environmental Osmosis

I was fortunate to be born into a family where financial prudence was, for the most part, the order of the day. My parents owned a business. They worked very hard and later, when their endeavours bore fruit, they learned how to play hard but always within the financial limitations of their reality.

Environmental osmosis meant that I learned from an early age that hard work provided rewards. I learned that planning for the future was critical. It was drilled into me to always be part of a superannuation scheme, to have life insurance and to save whenever possible.

Being a teacher and then a principal, meant I had no expectations of being rich, but I did have an expectation that I would be comfortable in retirement, based on the actions taken over a life time. These actions are based on being born lucky in terms my parents and their parents, for I have no doubt my parents were living the examples of their parents.

Walking on the Shoulders of Others

My conclusion is that like so many things in this world, we should reflect and acknowledge that we so often walk on the shoulders of others.

In times such as these, it is appropriate to take time to think how others have helped us get to where we are today. We should also be mindful that there are many who have not had the advantage of ‘walking on the shoulders of others’ and do what we can to ensure nothing should be taken away “even that which he hath.” Indeed, we should be seeking to help such people.

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This insightful blog was written by guest writer John McGowan, retired Principal, Auckland, NZ.