What Does “Better” Mean?

I’d like to discuss what we mean when we use the word “better” in a social context. If a man works in a coal mine for 30+ years, at the end of his career, he might say “well, I worked so hard for so long so that my children could have a better life than I had.”

This is an admirable notion, but it’s not a sustainable one. If his kids do end up with a better life, what would that look like? Would they go to college instead of entering the workforce as teens? What if they don’t even want that, or better yet, what if they legitimately want to pursue a career in coal mining?

Maybe we define “better” as a lesser amount of struggle. Well, struggle can build very positive qualities in people and overcoming struggle is also very admirable. Is struggle even necessarily a bad thing then? I mean, you can’t have a “rags to riches” story without any rags. How often does the absence of struggle create deficits of character?

Maybe “better” means more opportunities, more money. How many generations would it take for that idea to become dangerous? Not many. Maybe that would end up yielding a quintessential rich kid who thinks he is “better” than everyone else.

Perhaps the coal miner wants his kids to be able to live life on their own terms. That way they can choose what lifestyle is “better” for them as individuals. This thought establishes that there is no universally better lifestyle. That’s a hopeful thought, but I feel like a capitalist society does not largely believe that, as evidenced by our culture of celebrity worship and “keeping up with the Joneses.” Or, that our sense of what better means – even within our own lives – is largely dependent on the opinions of other people.

I mention this not so much to try to teach people something, but to submit that, probably for most people, we do not give enough thought to how we define better, and in failing to do so, we fall victim to someone else’s definition, someone else’s vision. This is really something that I think deserves more thought and my only objective here is to inspire you to think.

It is my belief that a call to action should be preceded by a call to thought.

So what does a “better” life look like for you, anyway?

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