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The Courage to Put "Us" First

The American culture is one of individualism. We celebrate the thought that anyone can rise to the top...with enough gumption. We celebrate individual liberty, personal choice, unimpeded pursuit of our dreams, etc. David Brooks mentioned in his Op Ed piece in the NY Times today that essentially, as a nation, we are failing to look at the whole.

I was thinking about the Three Musketeers' motto: All for one; one for all. It seems that for many of us, the "all for one" part works, but the "one for all" piece is problematic. Ghandi's commented that evil cannot exist without both sides participating. He demonstrated it by leading the successful revolt against British rule by having the Indian people refuse to participate in the system. The Brits didn't like it; and inflicted severe physical pain on those refusing to work.

But, in the end, the Indian people prevailed. The same method was used in the Birmingham bus strikes in the 60s, which crushed public transportation system with a boycott. Once again, the group prevailed through their solidarity. My point here is that both movements required individual submission to the group's method in addition to accepting personal risk on behalf of the group.

It takes courage to stand alone - apart from the group. It can be very risky (physically, emotionally, socially, and financially) to stand on your principles when those around you object. But, it also takes courage to stand with the group. There is also risk when we stand with others; especially when we suspect that our individual solution might be better (at least for us). The group might have a solution inferior to ours, but more popular than ours. With a concerted group effort, including ours, however, the group's plan can work. Our individual solution might well fail for lack of that concerted effort by the group.

Human beings are social beings. We need more focus on how it is that we manage those two stances - individual and participant. We try to teach our children to play well together, be good team members, etc. The problem is that we stop there. We continue to work together in our jobs and professions, but we rarely continue to look increasingly deeply into how we become better at standing along when we need to and standing with the group when that it best. We seem to have lost our focus on that balance. Our politics is polarized and that polarization breeds "us vs. them," which further divides us and nearly guarantees frustration and failure.

Let's try putting "Us" first. By "Us" I don't mean our social or political groups. I mean "Us" as all of the human beings who live and work together regardless of social, gender, sexual preference, race, religion, height, weight, political persuasion, or any other differences you might dream up. I am not attributing evilness to the corona virus. It is not evil; it just exists and is expressing its existence... much as we do. It cannot, however, wreak havoc upon us if we refuse to participate. If we refuse to give in to our individual desires for doing what we want when we want it. If we refuse to continue telling ourselves that we are right; and "they" are just trying to unjustly impede our "right" to pursue our happiness.

If we refuse to hang on to the "hope" of returning to what was, rather than pursuing the dream of something even better. Longingly looking backward to the past keeps us from looking forward. There is no future in the past.

Just as the movements I mentioned above were successful by focusing on "Us," so can we prevail by ALL working together, as "Us," until we succeed.


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