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From the Front Porch: The Importance of “Community”.

August 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Robert R. Livingston

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Synopsis: No matter how much we like to believe that we are self-made individuals, the truth is that we are successful, not because of how smart or clever we are, but because we had a community of family, friends and acquaintances who believed in our dream and desired to support our efforts. If the recession has taught us anything about our common life as a people, it is that we need each others’ gifts and abilities in order to succeed. Perhaps it’s time that the myth of “rugged individualism” gave way to reality of community.

America is a land of "rugged individualism".  We make our way through life, chart our own destiny, continually pushing on to bigger and better opportunities and rewards.  In the Social Sciences, we give this attitude of self-sufficiency a name:  "express individualism".  Fact or fiction, our reliance on our ability to get ahead in life by becoming anything or anyone we want to be has permeated American society since the Founding.

However, is the American spirit of “rugged individualism” fact or fiction? Are we really as self-sufficient as we believe or is the whole idea of making things happen on our own merely a myth that we, as a nation, have owned as part of our founding story?

In his book, “The Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell reviews the “rags-to-riches” (success) stories of athletes, music groups such as The Beatles and entrepreneurs like Bill Gates. What he found is that successful people have more behind them than native ability and a sense of genius.  Among other sociological factors, Gladwell discovered that their success was based largely on being at the right place at the right time and having a community of supporters help pave the way for their success.  In other words, success depends not only on how clever or smart we are, but on a community of people who believe that our ideas can help change the world.

In the Bible, the priest Ezra had the difficult task of uniting Jews returning from exile. But, no matter how effective a leader he was, he could not accomplish this task without the support of the entire community (Ezra 10). The Apostle Paul faced similar difficulties in Corinth. He could not unify the Church until the community members recognized that they were not merely individuals seeking to gratify personal desires but members of a Body (i.e., a “community”) that was meant to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Similarly, it took the entire community of states gathering at Philadelphia to reach a unanimous agreement that the community that was to become the United States was vastly more important than the personal interests of a few who opposed the forming of the Constitution.  Indeed, even though Washington was dubbed the “father of our Country” in the American Revolution and later, Madison heralded as “the father of the Constitution”, neither could have achieved greatness without the unity and support of a community of people.

We do not live, move and have our being in a vacuum. We cannot live or succeed apart from a community.  No matter how much we like to believe that we are self-made individuals, the truth is that we are successful, not because of how smart or clever we are, but because we had a community of family, friends and acquaintances who believed in our dream and desired to support our efforts. If the recession has taught us anything about our common life as a people, it is that we need each others’ gifts and abilities in order to succeed. Perhaps it’s time that the myth of “rugged individualism” gave way to reality of community.

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