Why we should value effort, not luck

Posted on July 1, 2010 by

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One cognitive bias most people have is that they hold in high esteem those who were born with good genetics.

For example, if someone is born with good looks, we tend to value them more than less attractive people. Similarly, we value naturally intelligent people more than less intelligent people.

But when we do this, what exactly is it that we value? Is it the fact that these people happened to win the genetic lottery? Surely being born with particular skills or characteristics has mostly to do with biology.

That is to say, having been born good looking, smart, or talented is not related to the amount of effort made to achieve these things. A naturally smart person did not have to do anything to become smart; they were born that way. Someone who was always considered good looking did not have to work for it.

Thus, if these positive qualities are merely the result of chance, why do we hold the people themselves in higher esteem than those who lack these qualities? Aren’t we effectively valuing luck instead of character?

Rationally, it would make more sense to praise those who actually work to improve themselves.

Who would you value more, someone who is of average intelligence but works hard to educate themselves, or someone who was born a genius but does not use their brain for anything? Someone who was born naturally thin, or someone who was born overweight but uses their willpower to keep their weight in check? The musician to whom playing piano comes easy or the student who practices day in, day out to become a master one day?

It is character that should be valued, not genetics. While genetics may affect a person’s character to a degree, it is also something we can change at any point in our life – unlike genes.

We think of it as “cheating” when someone undergoes plastic surgery to become more attractive. Even if after the surgery that person looked as good as someone who was born attractive, we consider the genetically blessed person somehow better. Not only their looks, but their personality as well, even though it takes much more effort to undergo surgery and to actually do something about one’s looks.

The willingness to work hard for something, to improve oneself against all odds – that is a sign of true character.

To be content with oneself, then, is not something to be valued in itself. To have been born with good genes is not negative, nor is it positive. It is merely neutral.

It is precisely those who refuse to play the hand they’re dealt and strive for something better instead that I value and respect the most.

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