By Eric Meerkamper

I have always believed that individual initiative, effort, perseverance, and risk-taking should be encouraged and rewarded, and that these characteristics strongly correlate with success and achievement on most measures. We revel in rags-to-riches stories, overcoming the odds, and the “self-made” person.

However, I also believe that to truly understand, appreciate and celebrate what has been achieved, what is genuinely a product of our extraordinary efforts and unique contributions, it is essential to begin with humility and recognize that much of what we have “merited” is often not only due to our own efforts.

Our achiever-fuelled society generally doesn’t like to recognize this, and some might think it mocks the core beliefs and values upon which society is built: witness the ferocious negative reaction to President Obama’s recent “You didn’t build that” campaign comments on July 13, 2012 in Roanoke, Virginia.

Regardless of where we started, I believe we have to properly set the sticks if we are going to measure what we have, in fact, achieved and merited.

I had the privilege of being the Chair of the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, which produces the excellent Who’s Hungry report. One thing that struck me the most from this and other poverty research, is that while there are many reasons why people might come to need the support of a food bank or other social services, a primary differentiator between those who temporarily stumble and get back up quickly vs. those who get caught in the poverty cycle, is the strength of their social “safety net”, and the resources of those around them, which to a large extent are a function of one’s circumstance, and not something necessarily built, or earned.

Recognizing what we have been given, and what others have not, doesn’t undermine achievement. Recognizing the contributions of those before us and around us that have allowed us to achieve that much more, only deepens our understanding of what merit is.

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.Sir Isaac Newton

Eric Meerkamper (UCC ’87) is President of the RIWI Corporation and Chair of the Centre for Social Innovation. He can be reached at

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