MARGARET MEAD: Americans Confused About Success

"For many Americans, the concept of success is a source of confusion. As a people, we Americans greatly prize success. We are taught to celebrate and admire the one who gets the highest grades, the one voted most attractive or most likely to succeed. But while we often rejoice in the success of people far removed from ourselves - people who work in another profession, live in another community, or are endowed with a talent that we do not especially want for ourselves - we tend to regard the success of people close at hand, within our own small group, as a threat."

— Adapted from Margaret Mead, The Egalitarian Error

Explain Mead's argument and discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with her analysis. Support your position by referring to the passage and providing reasons and examples from your own experience, observations, or reading.


         In the passage, "The Egalitarian Error," Margaret Mead strongly believe that Americans today, greatly prize being successful and celebrate the success of others.  However, when someone close, such as a familar acquaintance, is successful, we tend to become envious towards them.  In other words, according to Mead, Americans are confused about the ideas of success.  People often celebrate the success of strangers because they are not from the same social group from which they are from.  For example, in the presidential election of 2008, Barack Obama won the Whitehouse candidacy, and citizens all over the country, whether of Black, White, Asian, or Spanish descent, celebrated his victory.  In my own personal experience, I have witnessed situations in which people recognize those accomplished outside of their own circle.  My family was more impressed with one of my friend's test scores than with mine, when both of our grades were fairly similar.   According to the text, we, the people, tend to regard success of the people who are close to us as non-important and instead of accepting it, we receive it as a threat.  Through the achievement of others close to us, the possibility of considering their success as a threat is increased; this in turn portrays them as a rival.  This growth of competition can make a person feel as if opportunity towards something grand is lost, that their "chance at spotlight" can been stolen from them, or if they are the one who succeeds, that being an overachiever or being able to complete a particular feat will not gain you recognition, but jealousy and envy from others.
            The most noticeable effect of success of those near to us is gaining the feeling of lost opportunity.  For instance, when a high school student commits procrastination and laziness during his high school career, depriving himself of a chance at an after high school education, while his friend attends a well respected institution of education.  As a result, the high school student feels as if he has lost a valuable opportunity.  Another example would be when a potential employee is a applying for a job, but a more experienced or better qualified person is offered the job.  This outcome of another’s achievements can dramatically affect oneself.
            The feeling of having your “spotlight” stolen is another aspect of experiencing the effects of another person’s success.  In other words, when one who is close to us experiences fame and glory academically, jealousy may start to build up therefore causing us to react.  We tend to act in this way because people are truly selfish to the smallest extent.

-no spotlight, imaginary