Our culture has long touted the value of the individual. There is a vast reservoir of strength, creativity, and possibilities each of us have that gives us amazing potential to make the world better. Unfortunately, there may be a dark side to this way of living. We’re starting to see what happens when it’s left unchecked and one has to wonder: is individualism killing us?
The Costliest Cyclone on Record
When Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coastline in late August of 2017, advisories and warnings were in effect. The storm had reached 130 mph at its apex, was threatening large parts of Texas and Louisiana, and had already had a devastating effect in several Caribbean and Latin American areas.
The storm brought not only high winds, but catastrophic flooding, several fatalities, and enough damage to tie Katrina for costliest cyclone on record. People were displaced, hungry, and scared. In a time needing healing and help one of the best equipped churches instead seemed to highlight the question: is individualism killing us?
All the Means; None of the Focus
Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas welcomes more than 52,000 attendees a week. During the storm, it became embroiled in controversy because of its means and opportunity which brought its motives into question.
As the storm was upon the city and flooding left people homeless and helpless, the church kept its doors shuttered. With room to shelter a great number of people and the means to feed and house those in need, the church not only lacked the focus to realize they should help, they continued to ignore the backlash of keeping their doors closed, claiming flooding concerns many that had access to the area disputed.
After a barrage of images and anecdotes on social media showing a church in fine condition, they finally opened their doors to the public. The flooding concerns, it seems, were not an issue.
When we look at the success of the pastor of Lakewood Church, and the hurting people that were held at bay, one has to wonder is individualism killing us? A closer look at the pastor’s life makes it more concerning.
The current building, a former sports arena, received $75 million in renovations by the church. The church and the pastor had the means to make a difference. They had more than enough money and space to help those who were displaced. They had the opportunity to assist those in need. They were in the area, had the contacts, and had the funds.
But what was their motive? Was it on the community or on themselves? Was the focus on helping others or meeting personal goals? Who is really being served here: a community who can’t count on the church in time of crisis or the man who has a home with five fireplaces and a net worth equal to over 1000 households?
Should one person have so much when so many have so little, particularly one who chose a life that should be in service to others? A more important question: does our culture focus on individual success at great damage to the group as a whole? Is individualism killing us?
The Rich Get Richer
This incident with Hurricane Harvey follows a trend, much like the richest man in the world getting rich as his workers complain about not having adequate protections, proper pay, or adequate bathroom breaks. It seems that driven people have mistaken working hard with the right to take a piece of the pie that far exceeds everyone else’s.
In the past 40 years CEO’s have seen their compensation rise over 1000% while the average worker’s pay rose under 12%. CEOs used to make 30 times the average worker verses nearly 300 times 40 years later.
Although the richest people have seen their lowest tax rate in the last 70 years, the federal minimum wage has remained stagnant for over a decade.
A Better Way
It seems the few are seeing a great deal of individual success while the many are seeing little growth matched with higher costs of living. Is individualism killing us? Is there a better way?
As valuable as becoming our best selves is, it seems we’ve lost our balance. It’s one thing for someone to lead a group to make something great; it’s quite another for one person to have more wealth than they could ever spend while the people that helped make it happen struggle to make ends meet.
Maybe we need a different approach. Maybe our focus on individual success without focusing on the good of everyone is doing more damage than good. Maybe we need to focus on how we can improve not just ourselves but the world we live in.