"I tortured her, now she tortures you. Succeed - you get someone of your own to torture." - Fanny Ardant as Irene, Sabrina

Mar 12 2018

Is there a universal definition for success or is it different in every country?


Here's why I'm asking: it seems to me, in my very limited experience, that the definition of success in America is twisted. This quote is a perfect example of what I mean.


A large swath (yes, that's a real word) of the American public seems to think that being successful means doing whatever it takes to get more money and power than other people. If that means you have to - quite literally - make the lives of others worse in order to get what you want for yourself, so be it. That's right! We now have a society dominated by folks so hell-bent on having the newest iPhone and a three-car garage that they're willing to ruin someone else's life in order to get it.


Personally, I think I'd be happy with a two-car garage.


Is success defined by such cutthroat measures in other cultures, in other parts of the world? My little life has been so under-resourced that I've been to only two countries outside the U.S.: Canada and France. Canada was clean, beautiful, peaceful, and polite. It didn't seem very different from the U.S., aside from the cleanliness, the civility, and the wrappers on the candy bars being printed in two languages.


France, on the other hand, was like stepping onto a different planet. My first day in Paris, I was having lunch with my mom and my sisters at Cafe Benjamin when a gorgeous young man came in, sat at a table, and ordered a cup of coffee. Nothing to eat, no book to read, and no one to speak to, but there he was - sitting calmly and sipping a cup of coffee while watching people pass by on the street. When he was done, he paid his bill and went on his way.  Americans tend to eat and drink on-the-go. Few people, even children, go anywhere without some sort of travel mug in their hand. The idea of a grown man having so much free time that a coffee was something to sit and enjoy, unhurried, was shocking to us. Americans are in such a rush that we don't even get out of our cars to get our coffees, and we eat entire meals while driving in rush hour traffic and steering with our knees.


I once saw a guy driving through Seattle while using chopsticks to eat from a caton of Chinese food.


Is that success? We're driving cars we can't afford to get to jobs we don't enjoy and we're drinking oversized buckets of caffeine and sugar to keep us alert on the way there. We brag about how sleep-deprived we are as if it's a competitive sport: who can get the most done on the least amount of sleep? In France, they'd treat you like you were mentally unbalanced if you went without sleep in order to work. They hustle as hard as anyone else, but they know when to stop and leave work at the office. 


And I don't think they measure their own success or failure according to someone else's level of pain. Perhaps they'd even go so far as to say that it doesn't qualify as success if you had to hurt someone in order to achieve it.


Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's a part of the human condition, tracing back to knowing that you didn't have to outrun the mastadon, you only had to outrun the slowest member of your tribe and you'd survive. After all, in this scene, Sabrina's French boss is the person giving her this advice. Just remember this piece of dialogue was created by two American screenwriters and proceed accordingly.

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