the measure of a man…

The world worships success.  From all accounts, it is apparently, the measure of a man.  (And before anyone starts quibbling about the use of “inappropriate” gender…. there used to be a time when it was accepted that usage of “man” as illustrated above, is a reference to the universal man and woman.   I am ok with that – it’s just grammar – so live with it!). 

Back to the measure of the man – Singaporeans were reared to speak of the 5Cs as a measure of success.  It was sacrosanct, almost:

  • cash
  • condominium
  • car
  • credit card
  • career

Don’t get me wrong.  Success is probably the opiate of other societies as well – a mark that you have arrived.  But it’s only in Singapore that the media made a story out of the 5Cs of success.  So if you are in possession of the 5Cs, you are the Made-in-Singapore story.  You are deemed a success. 

Never mind that those are just trappings.   Never mind the man inside.

I asked this question recently – of myself too – if you could see the inside of you, what would you look like?  Some of the answers that came back were “I would be invisible”, “I am dry bones”, “like the image on an x-ray”.  The list goes on. 

What would the successful man see? If you put him under the scope or x-ray machine, he would be skeletal, just like any man on the street.  

But his wealth makes him more visible and the lack of it, renders invisible, those who have not.  Is a man without cash, car, condominium, credit card and brilliant career, less of a success?  

Is a rich man sponsoring research to cure himself of an incurable ailment better than the poor man who has research done to him for the world’s gain?  Is the rich man enjoying and hosting a catered, dine-in dinner party better off than a man picking chicken bone with scraps of meat on it from a food bin of a diner, to feed his family?  Is a rich man buying another Maserati, an Aston Martin better than a poor man selling his bicycle to feed his family?  Is the rich man who gives less than a per cent of his entire fortune to support the arts or other charities to enjoy tax rebates, better off than a poor man who gives up his meagre, daily wages to help feed a widow and her children for a day?

You tell me.  I happen to think that the measure of a man is not success by the world’s standard or the trappings of it.  That’s brittle and temporal.  Like vapour, it could vanish.

So what of the previously “successful” man who’s lost it all?  What then is the measure of that man?  Definitions can’t be so fickle or was it flawed to start with.

I think the measure of a man is not success but greatness, reflected in surmounting the small, “unseen” everyday struggles, borne out of gracious perseverance, charity and love.  That is the true measure of a man.   Monied or not.


This came around on the net screaming “True story”.  I have not verified this but it could be a true story or at least has its basis in a true story.


One thought on “the measure of a man…”

  1. I don’t think there is a universal definition for success. In order to succeed, there has to be a goal. If a poor man’s goal is to provide food for his family and he succeeds in doing that, he is a success. Or a Filipina maid who works on Singapore in order to put her brother through university or to send money home so that they can rebuild a house, she too is a success.
    As you rightly mentioned, we are sometimes caught in a material world. Our race for the 5 Cs has resulted in an ungracious and self-centred society. I have come across people with 6Cs (6th being Country Club) behaving worse than the “aunty” who cleans tables at a hawkers’ centre.
    A previously “successful” man who is able to pick himself up after losing it all is still a success if he is able to pick himself up and move on. He may not achieve his previous success but the ability to move on is a success in itself.

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