One of the first questions in every first meeting with a person is, “What do you do?” meaning what do you do for a living. There are two things we usually want to know when we ask that question: 1) How much you make, and 2) What is your rank on the social stratum. In fact, if you said to your new acquaintance how much you make straight away, he or she wouldn’t enquire about the type of work you do or your social stratum. Your earnings alone would enable that person to rank you.
But what do you do when money is meaningless? We’re heading toward a reality of widespread joblessness when many good people will be out of work permanently not of their own volition, but because there will be no jobs to occupy. This is not a futuristic scenario. COVID-19 has instigated this reality. If initially, people were furloughed, now they are being fired as more and more companies are adjusting to a reality of permanent low demand.
I already wrote countless times in essays and in books about the obligation of governments to provide jobless people with a basic income, and that this income must be contingent on participating in sessions that teach them about the reality that got them fired. While it is essential to know that the world that has become completely interdependent, and that in order to survive we must be responsible for one another, we must also tend to people’s sense of self-esteem.
To put it differently, there are three elements that people must maintain in order to be able to lead a satisfying life: 1) physical provisions (staples), 2) understanding the world they live in, and 3) a sense of dignity or self-esteem. Without any one of these three, people will be driven to despair, and many will resort to violence, which will tear society apart.
Because, at the end of the day, public figures cater to the desires of the public, the public must show that it respects people who give to society, and even more importantly, bring it together. There is no question that a cohesive society is a resilient society. Also, people are happier when they live in a supportive environment. We need to show that this is the society we want and that we pay people who help bring us together with respect, dignity, and accolades. If we do so with conviction, and resolutely show that we condemn people who exploit others, even the wealthiest, most powerful people will give up their power and fortune in return for appreciation.
We mustn’t forget that it doesn’t matter how many billions I have if people don’t know about it and respect me for it.
Therefore, if social values change, so will people’s desires, since nothing is more powerful than people’s opinion of a person. If we show what values we want, what kind of individuals we respect, we will create a society made of such people.
My teacher’s father, the prolific thinker, and kabbalist, Baal HaSulam, phrased the whole concept in one short paragraph: “Indeed, any experienced person knows that the greatest of all the world’s imaginable pleasures is to win people’s favor. Obtaining this coveted thing is worth making every effort and worldly concession. This is the magnet to which the finest in every generation are drawn, and for which they trivialize the whole of the worldly life.”
When we respect people who contribute to our solidarity, that contribution will be the new currency. The more people contribute to it, the “wealthier” they will be in the eyes of society, and therefore in their own eyes, as respect becomes the new currency. If we employ this tactic, we will navigate our communities and countries to safety in the stormy water of COVID-19 and beyond.