The Challenge of Ending Contempt and Needing Poor People

Arthur Brooks: "How to Live a 'Start-Up' Life" | Talks at Google
Arthur Brooks: "How to Live a 'Start-Up' Life" | Talks at Google

America is obsessed with the idea of entrepreneurship: Ambitious individuals using their talents and setting out on new ventures. But too often, we misidenti...


If you want to live a happy life, never be anonymous. Always leave your name (particularly in social media). Why? Because people treat others with more respect when they know they can be identified.

It's true on Twitter. It's certainly true face-to-face. And in so doing, you help to reduce the contempt that people show toward one another, and that's where room is made for problem-solving to begin.

That's the suggestion from social scientist Arthur Brooks, who researches happiness and speaks to human potential and dignity in practically every one of the 175 speeches he gives each year.

Brooks says that contempt is no way to go through life. It's "for people with no discipline. Contempt is for people who have bad habits, people who have mental tics, people who can't control themselves."

Contempt is also impractical and self-defeating. When you assume someone who disagrees with you is stupid and evil, you will never win an argument.

"It is deeply suboptimal from a practical standpoint," Brooks told an audience at Google in Silicon Valley.

"You will never insult anybody into agreement. That has never happened in human history. It is impossible. Like, 'Listen you moron, I'm going to refute all your facts.' And somebody is going to go, 'Hey you know, he's right. I am a moron. I never thought of it that way.'"

Brooks said that everybody loves somebody with whom they disagree politically. And when people argue bitterly at or insult the people you love, it's your duty to defend them.

"You have a responsibility to stand up from your side because they're insulting your family," he said. To do otherwise is "not courageous. It's not even loyal."

This outlook applies to helping the poor as well. Brooks is on a mission for cultural renewal. It starts with nurturing a "start-up life." That includes not just daily communications with one another, but how we approach poor people. They are not liabilities to be managed, but assets to be developed.

"Stop thinking of poor people as charity cases, start thinking of them as potentially productive human assets, the same way people talk about rich people's kids."

Brooks notes that if poor people simply disappeared from the landscape, that would be a departure from American tradition.

Our country was built by “ambitious riff-raff," by outsiders and outcasts. As Americans, we are proud of that.

"It's the only country in the world where we're proud of the fact that our ancestors were poor, and we tell the stories," he said.

If this country's history is built on the pride of our poor ancestors making good, then we need to be proud to welcome other poor into our society. And when we change the way we view the problem of poverty, we identify solutions for people to be lifted and to lift themselves out of poverty.

“Don’t think about ways to help poor people; think about ways to need poor people,” he said. To truly help poor people, to “solve the moral problem of poverty,” they need to be needed in our society.

When people are needed, they have a sense of purpose. A purpose in life gives direction and fuels them to produce for themselves and their family. And everyone benefits.

Living a "start-up life" does not mean that we are going to build billion-dollar businesses. It means that in our society we must look at one another as enterprises in the process of building, shaping, and improving throughout our lives.

What do you think of Brooks’ suggestion? Is contempt the problem? Are you contemptuous toward others? Are you hostile toward poor people? Is it a habit, or something everyone does? Would you change it in yourself or among others around you?Tell us your thoughts.

Comments (2)
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@kmdoherty what a great program. John Kelly also tells an amazing story. There's so much room for people to rebuild their lives if they are able to feel a purpose.


Great suggestion, and here is a link to a living enterprise that lives it ... Homeboy Industries