In my last post I posed the question Is Individualism Killing Us? There are a lot of ways we have focused so much on individual success that we’re seeing extreme success for the few while seeing extreme need for the many. Perhaps a better solution is a focus on community.
The Value of Two Approaches
There are two major approaches to social interactions in a culture. One is communal and one is individual. In the communal approach, like those in Amish or Eastern communities, there is a focus on community where everyone works together for the good of the group. In individually-focused cultures, the focus is on leaving each individual untethered to maximize their individual contribution.
On the whole both of these approaches are valuable. Obviously working toward the group makes sense because we all depend on each other. If one person excels at building it makes more sense for them to build houses and let someone else supply food and someone else make clothes. Everyone works together at their strengths to contribute to the whole.
Which also shows the value in individualism. If someone excels in an area, they should focus on maximizing what they can contribute. If they have the ability to improve the entire group, they should do so.
An Unbalanced Approach
At the same time, individualism requires balance. One person should not get more than they need just to live luxuriously while others suffer. Like Joel Osteen who lives in his 17,000 square foot mansion while he turns away those in need, some are focused more on themselves than on others.
Over 100 people died from Hurricane Harvey in the US and around 300,000 structures were destroyed. Over a third of a million people were left without electricity. This was an opportunity to work together as a community, but in this instance it showed how we lost a focus on community.
Instead of the Lakewood megachurch opening their doors to those in need, they waited until there was an extreme social media backlash before they stepped in to help their community. This is the church that spent over $75 million in renovations and has over 52,000 in weekly attendance If anyone could have helped and should have helped, it was them. But this is not uncommon.
Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, runs Amazon, the company that asked customers to donate to help their employees. Until recently they paid so little that 10% of their Ohio workforce was on food stamps, and instead of providing PPE to their workforce after complaints over COVID-19, they tried to smear those who complained.
It seems that just like anything else, individualism can go overboard. The pendulum has swung too far and it’s time to bring it back with a focus on community.
Two Sides of Responsibility
The problem with untethered individualism is that it ignores communal impact. It’s the idea that a company should be able to dump toxic chemicals on its property ignoring the fact that those chemicals leech into communal water.
It’s similar to the same libertarian concern about paying taxes for schools if you don’t have kids. The problem is this view is very narrow: it doesn’t see the communal impact of the school.
It doesn’t see how schools train the local workforce to count change at the local grocer, write up reports for local law enforcement, train in civics for local government, and much more. Individualism only sees the few direct connections; a focus on community sees the thousands of indirect connections that make a huge impact in a person’s life.
It’s much like people protesting COVID-19 to get a haircut. They are looking at their individual freedom. What they don’t see is the individual freedom of the person who cuts the hair, or the people that work with them. The don’t see the fact that when the states are open for business, those people can no longer claim unemployment; they must risk their lives and the lives of any compromised family members so they can put food on the table.
With a focus on community, we look at it much differently.
A Focus on Community
When we focus on each other instead of ourselves, we look out for those that are the most vulnerable. To quote Jesus, what you do to the least of these, you do to God.
Our focus should never be on getting while others do without. Our focus should always be on loving each other and looking out for each other. Anything I do for me should be good for the community as a whole. Taking care of myself, taking time for myself, and enjoying myself are all healthy activities that make me a better person and make me more able to help others.
At the same time, doing any of these things at the expense of others is not healthy for me. It changes me. It makes me more selfish, and over time I become more focused on me and less focused on the good of those in my community and those that have helped me improve my life.
Like Joel Osteen and Jeff Bezos, if I provide something of value that enriches me, when I focus on the enrichment of myself instead of how I can use those means to improve the lives of others, I begin to focus more and more on me to the point that I have more than I will ever need while those that helped me get there suffer.
Instead, a focus on community is about finding out how even taking care of myself takes care of others. It’s about choosing actions that don’t just benefit myself, but benefit everyone. It’s about taking the path that leads to equity and not simple self-enrichment.
But how do we do this? How can we achieve our best if we’re focused on doing unto others? It’s a tough question, but one that has a straightforward answer.
In my next post, I’ll show how you methods for maximizing your potential in a community-centered world.