Sunday, December 22, 2013


Little Pond, Greensboro, NC

Would you rather be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond? Malcolm Gladwell in his book David and Goliath tells the story of a very bright young student that was accepted in one of the country’s smaller and most prestigious universities. This young lady totally excelled in her classes all the way through high school. However, once she began studies in organic chemistry she started to question her abilities for a much dreamed of science degree and eventually changed her major. Other brilliant students around her were seemingly able to grasp the course’s concepts much better than she was able to comprehend them. Gladwell also compared the suicide rates of citizens in countries such as Switzerland and Canada that declare themselves to be very happy against countries such as Greece and Portugal whose citizens declared that they are not very happy. Ironically, the folks in the less happy countries had the lower suicide rates.

So what’s the connection? Psychologists attribute these human responses to a concept coined as “relative deprivation”. As it turns out, how you feel about your “self-concept” matters very much in relation to those people immediately around you. The bright young scholar was swimming in a small university with students that were even more brilliant. She would have probably excelled in a larger institution and gone on to a long and prosperous career in science. Educators term this the “Big Fish-Little Pond Effect”. Depressed citizens in happy countries experience a higher suicide rate when they see so many happy people around them. The poor in Chile have twice the income as the poor in Honduras. But the poor Hondurans feel happier because their income is relatively closer to Honduras’ middle class than in Chile which is too far removed for comparison.

The income of the average American positions us in the top five per-capita of the world. Jesus talks about the “rich” having difficulty entering the Kingdom of Heaven. He teaches that much will be demanded of those to whom much has been given. Many folks in America don’t see themselves as rich. We live in unprecedented times of wealth and material possessions in this country. If you live in this country, the majority see you as among the world’s rich, even though you do not, given your ostentatious surroundings. Compared to the world as a whole, we’re big fish in a little pond. We’re challenged to care for all of our brothers and sisters in the world’s big pond. And we need to count our blessings and take responsibility for what God demands of us.

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