Thursday, January 23, 2014

That Rugged Individualism We So Love

I grew up viewing myself as rather independent; in general, something of a loner. Our culture highly values this politic of rugged, frontier individualism. We admire self-made individuals who stand on the peak of success, and we press to the front of the line to purchase their best-selling autobiographies. The very idea of playing Lone Ranger makes our blood pump with ecstasy as we romanticize wild-west living notion of being fortified by a sturdy don’t-need-anybody individualism.

Ayn Rand, the Russian-born atheist, stands at the altar as today’s High Priestess of this cult of individualism. Her philosophy suggests she has little good to say about religion. Her 1964 Playboy interview, posted on the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights website, quotes her conclusion that religious faith is “a negation of human reason” and charity lacks virtue. If any civilization is to survive, Rand insisted, “it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject” (italics addded/

Like you, I admire the achievements of singularly achieving individuals. Both in the church and out, we lift their examples from everyday life and exalt them for their stellar achievements. Especially inspiring is the story of Edmund Hillary, but his achievement reveals a truth we seldom hear, and most never hear the true story.

“Truth in Advertising” should demand that we tell the truth of the matter; for the great truth is that Hillary’s conquest of Everest was not the conquest of a single man. As one author described it, the conquest of Mount Everest was a feat of modern management. It became the cooperative effort of a team of committed participants that conquered via their community.

It all began with Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Nergay. It became their story as they mobilized and coordinated a dozen climbers, 35 Sherpa  guides, 350 partners, and 3,600 pounds of equipment and supplies.
Whether you are Mormon politician Mitt Romney, U. S. President Barack Obama, CEO Pandit of Citibank Corporation, or the much-admired Edmund Hillary, successful living remains primarily a community event. President Obama can do little without the cooperation of the Congress. Chairman Pandit of Citibank Corporation can do little without his faithful core of managers, administrators, and employees. Even Sir Edmund could not stand on Mount Everest without the coordinated efforts of his dozens of guides, his numerous and varied partners, and tons of equipment and supplies.

Think what you will, but the conclusion of the matter is that without our time-consuming social networks, the rugged individualism that we so fervently worship, however self-made we may believe we are, we remain merely mythic gods suffering from delusional self-adulation. John Donne said it best in the classic summary for which we most remember him, which I have freely paraphrased: no man is an island unto himself; rather, we are all fragments of a piece of that continent called humanity.

Donne was only saying in his unique way what Jesus had already said when he instructed his disciples to love their neighbors as themselves Truth is; you can’t keep company with Jesus for long without developing better relationships with your neighbors, or even your enemies.

From Warner’s World, I am 

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