When I started my first full time job, my boss recommended that I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Over the years, I have gone back to the lessons of the book again and again. It is no wonder that the book has been identified as a classic for business management—its lessons are timeless and foundational to success in the personal and social dimensions of business. Indeed, over the years I have come to accept its lessons as a given: there is wisdom and simplicity in encouraging people to “be proactive,” “begin with the end in mind,” “put first things first,” and the like.
I recently returned to Covey’s work and discovered the concept I had not latched onto when I read the book decades ago. It relates to a theme that is woven throughout the writing, the abundance mentality. The abundance mentality refers to a perspective that says there is enough for everyone: enough resources, enough opportunity, and enough wealth to go around. It leads to an open, collaborative approach to interpersonal relationship and business interactions. Those who think there is enough for everyone are more likely to collaborate with others and approach relationships in a constructive way because they don’t perceive the person across the table as a threat or a competitor for things they want or need.
This concept brought to mind research I had done related to social values of the New Testament world: in that agrarian, pre-industrial world, everything that one needed was in limited supply. For 95% of the population, items like meat, salt, and honey were not accessible to everyone, but scarce. Land, which was a source of income, was the same. Intangible items like reputation were also limited and could be lost at any time. This reality created tension: if one’s neighbor, or opponent gained access to more wealth, food, or honor, jealousy and conflict were likely follow.
Our modern, postindustrial society is in many ways different. We have access to so much; products from around the world are available at our fingertips. We can press a button and expect to see any number of goods delivered to our home within two days. (I wonder what people in the ancient world would think about Amazon prime!).
One would expect Coveys concept of the abundance mentality would be evident in our interactions and community, if only because what we want and need really is available in abundance. Yet when I follow the news, listen to our political leaders, and engage in society at large, I see a scarcity mentality at work more often than not.
Why is that? Covey points that we only live from an abundance mentality if we believe there are enough opportunities and resources to go around. And I think that’s our issue: though we live in a land with plenty, we have begun to believe that we do not. Such a misunderstanding has significant consequences for our society.