We live in a world which increasingly emphasizes our individuality. While personal rights are important, when taken to an extreme, they can be dangerous. For society to be well served, our focus on individuality requires balance.
My friend Jonathan Kopel prompted me to think about this recently. Jonathan writes a daily devotional which he frequently emails to me. One of his recent pieces included these extremely insightful quotes from Catholic priest, R. Rohr.
He wrote, “I am self-made. Didn’t anyone tell you? I brought myself into the world when I decided to be born on a bright Monday morning. Then I figured out how cells replicate to grow my own arms and legs and head to a reasonable height and size. Then I filled my own mind from kindergarten to graduation with information I gleaned from the great works of literature… I’m joking, but sometimes it feels like the pressure we are under. An entire self-help and wellness industry made sure that we got the memo: we are sup-posed to articulate our lives as a solitary story of realization and progress. Work. Learn. Fix. Change. Every exciting action sounds like it is designed for an individual who needs to learn how to conquer a world of their own making.”
Rohr is correct. We must be alert to how others have helped us and equally important, to how we can help others. Jesus’ words suggest this is the way we are to live. When asked about the most important commandment, he identified loving God as most criti-cal, then added, “A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 27:39-40, NLT)
Caring about others instead of focusing exclusively on ourselves goes against our contemporary grain. It obviously helps other people, however, living unselfishly also helps us realize we are part of something larger than ourselves. It helps you and me accept this foundational fact; the universe does not revolve around us.
We would do well to remember the phrase English poet John Donne wrote 400 years ago, “No man is an island.” Donne and Rohr both focused on how much we need one another. Jesus challenges us to consider how our actions and attitudes impact those around us. When we live thinking only of ourselves we not only hurt others, we also weaken ourselves. Fighting our natural tendency to live selfishly helps us live mean-ingful and productive lives.
Rohr took this concept a step farther when he wrote, “…Our only job is to build on what we’ve been given, and, even then, even our gifts we can trace back to the creativity, gen-erosity, and foresight of others. Thank God we are a group project.”
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