Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Myth of Self-Sufficiency

One narrative of our US culture that has stood out to me lately is the idea that anyone could become anything. This principle is deeply rooted in our national consciousness. There are so many inspiring stories of people who have done amazing things. Entrepreneurs, inventors, athletes, and stories of hope are easy to find in the archives of US history. So often, a key thread to this plot of overcoming and success is self-determination. These heroes have achieved due to and their own ability and will power. "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps," is stated equally as an attribute and a judgment if you haven't achieved "success" in your own life.

It's an interesting dichotomy, because I believe self-sufficiency is a myth. No one accomplishes anything alone. Gladwell's book Outliers, he tells the story of how Bill Gates' didn't become the richest man in the world on intellect alone. He was in the right place, at the right time, and with parents who were able to give him the resources to be successful. These amazing athletes in the olympics have sacrificed greatly and shown an amazing amount of determination and resilience. But no one wins gold alone.

Self-sufficiency is not a biblical concept. Everything we learn from theology and scripture shows us that we are dependent on God's work in our lives through the Holy Spirit and Christ's sacrifice for redemption and renewal. The imagery of the body of Christ couldn't be more clear, that we need each other. Pragmatically, storyline of the "self-made" individual is incomplete. There is far more at play than our own will in any of our lives.

I believe that this misinterpretation of success inhibits our willingness to help each other. It inadvertently gives permission to judge those who are struggling and promotes a unhealthy idealization of individualism. I am thankful for the support I received throughout my life. I want to try to be supportive and understanding towards others in recognition that life is not a level playing field and we need to support each other, because no one is self-sufficient.