The more some­one iden­ti­fies with a pro­fes­sion or an “accom­plish­ment” such as an award, the less human he will be (in the clas­si­cal sense). In virtue ethics, the only “excel­lence” worth attain­ing is that of “being human”, with all what it entails (honor, courage, ser­vice, sat­is­fac­tion of pub­lic & pri­vate duties, will­ing­ness to face death, etc.); “achieve­ments” are reduc­tions and alien­ations for lower forms of life.

IN ANCIENT ROME this was a priv­i­lege reserved for the patri­cian class. They were able to engage in pro­fes­sional activ­i­ties with­out directly iden­ti­fy­ing with them: to write books, lead armies, farm land, or trans­act with­out being a writer, gen­eral, farmer, or mer­chant, but “a man (*vir* rather than *homo*) who” writes, com­mands, farms or trans­acts, as a side activity.

TODAY, as human­ity got much, much richer, one would have thought that every­one would have access to the priv­i­lege. Instead, I only find it in min­i­mum wage earn­ers who just “make a liv­ing” and feel forced to sep­a­rate their iden­tity from their pro­fes­sion. The higher up in the social lad­der, the more peo­ple derive their iden­tity from their pro­fes­sion and “achieve­ments”. — Nas­sim Taleb

When I was with Acu­men Fund, we would ask our­selves: How are we stand­ing with the poor? And quite frankly, I wasn’t sure if I even really knew what that meant. For the longest time, I thought it meant putting myself into another person’s per­spec­tive, try­ing to see the world through their eyes and “speak up” for those who didn’t have a voice. And then I came across this post­ing by Nas­sim Taleb, who sep­a­rates out iden­tity and accom­plish­ment and really got me reeval­u­at­ing my def­i­n­i­tion. It also made me real­ize how hard it was, as the higher up the social lad­der you are, the harder it is to dis­tin­guish between iden­tity and accom­plish­ment, the harder it is to relate.

Stand­ing with the poor is about look­ing beyond pro­fes­sion. Beyond awards and accom­plish­ments. Beyond first impres­sions. Stand­ing with the poor is a reminder to one­self to sep­a­rate the way you look at your­self and oth­ers around you; between their accom­plish­ments and iden­tity. Stand­ing with the poor is about under­stand­ing self-worth, regard­less of what situation/career/social sta­tus you are in.

And at the end of the day, it all comes back to valu­ing human dignity.