INDIVIDUALISM BRINGS US DOWN by Rector Chris Girata
INDIVIDUALISM BRINGS US DOWN was published in the Katy Trail Weekly, "The Good Word" Column, February 15, 2020
Chris Girata is the Rector of Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Dallas, TX.
Americans love to be individuals. Believe me, I know. I’m one of them. I have lots of opinions, I like to be different than the people around me and I prefer to do things my way. For a long time, this sort of individualism was held up as an idol of prosperity, a quality to be envied and achieved. We were told to be ourselves, work hard and not let anyone get in our way. But more and more, I’m beginning to see the fruits of this way of being as problematic for our future.
Individualism is bringing us down.
I can’t count the number of times I hear people talk about themselves. I’m not talking about likes and dislikes, but about defining actions and habits based on self-interest that undermine relationships. Whether it’s a snarky selfie or a quick-witted burn, humor often comes at the expense of others. We undermine the way others see the world with such self-righteousness that we can find ourselves more and more separate from those around us. This kind of separation is the root of our current polarity, but I think it can be turned around.
Much of what I believe is based on a simple idea: what is good for the whole is more important than what is good for the individual. Time and time again, the lessons we learn in our wisdom traditions, especially in the Bible, is that our relationships with one another is most important. Relating to one another, quite literally loving one another, is paramount to the core of our humanity.
Just a few days ago, I was talking with my youngest about what she learned at church Sunday morning. She recounted the story of the Good Samaritan, a story that transcends the Bible and even Christianity. The story is simple: A man is beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Two travelers, a priest and a Levite, walk past the hurt man but do not stop to help. They are religious leaders and afraid of being made ritually unclean on their way to worship at the Temple. Finally, a third man, a Samaritan, someone who would not have been respected by the super-religious, came upon the man and stopped to help him. The story would have stunned those listening, but for a reason that may not be obvious at first.
Much of what I believe is based on a simple idea: what is good for the whole is more important than what is good for the individual.
I asked my daughter to tell me what was most important about the story and she replied that we should always help others if we can. I asked her why the first two travelers declined to help the man. She said that they were worried about themselves. And what about the third man, I asked, to which she replied that he knew it was most important to help someone who is hurt. Little does she know just how right she is.
Time and time again, the best of us is in relationship with others. When we look beyond our own self-interest to the needs of those around us, we express the kind of generosity, love and consideration that helps communities excel in countless ways. When I look around today, I don’t see as much generosity as I wish I did, but that can change.
I am convinced that we are made to love, be kind and live generously. Our world may try to squeeze that goodness out of us, but we can resist. Taking care of ourselves and loving who we are is not the real problem. The real problem is thinking that’s all we’re supposed to do. When we start by being grateful for our lives and expressing our gratitude by loving those around us, we will find that we are filled up already.
"The Good Word" Column is published bi-weekly, and can be picked up at the Saint Michael South Entrance.
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