“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” John Donne
America is a prideful nation built upon falsehoods. One of our greatest lies is the image of the successful American as a self-made man (or woman). Granted, many inventions, innovations, and fashions have sprung from the tenants of American soil, but to pretend that a person can make themselves into a success without the support and use (and all too often, the manipulation) of other individuals is pure fantasy.
More often than not, the “successes” that we revere in the world have murky pasts they wish to hide and therefore show no hesitation in modifying their success story to reflect purer intentions and original ideas, whereas the gritty truth will reveal the appropriation of others in order clamber to the top of the heap. Stepping upon others to reach greater heights is neither glorious nor honorable; it actually is reprehensible behavior that should merit the disgust of others, not their praise.
Another version of the self-made fable derives from the person who came from a privileged background and claims to have built his or her own success when he or she actually was funded by doting and moneyed relatives. Sure, this individual may have brought a great idea to the table, but more often than not, the development and fruition of that great idea relied upon bringing together a team of people to bring reality to a vision. Again, some may argue that it takes leadership to construct a winning team, but leadership often employs coercion, manipulation, and dishonesty in order to reach their heady goal and, more importantly, leadership requires a group of people that will follow.
Winston Churchill said that history is written by the victors, which gives the author of that particular chapter of human endeavors free and creative license to portray themselves as a darling of society, rather than the scoundrel that many become in order to reach their dream of domination. While many new ideas are clever, fantastic, and useful, this should not grant the person carte blanche rights and powers over others. Most “successful” people know that this is true, but fortunately for them, their money provides them with the means to modify laws which will then continue to favor them and to allow them the rights and powers that they seek and believe they deserve.
Part of the problem of the self-made lie is that it has become the ultimate badge of honor and acceptance. Even more, it has become a standard measure for all Americans, to the point where seeking assistance in times of need is scoffed at as if everyone wants a handout rather than a hand up. (Hence, the made up Biblical verse that “God helps those who help themselves.”) Worse, we elect leaders who arrogantly continue spouting this nonsense of the independent American and denigrate those who are less fortunate than others. Sadly, the proportion of unfortunate people appears to be increasing rather than decreasing as our society grows and evolves. When the success of the individual overrides the success of our society as a whole, perhaps it is time to rethink our strategies.
Americans crave to be a part of or at least near success stories, as if it will rub off on them or they can benefit from the crumbs and leftovers that remain on the bounteous table of success. Many inspiration speakers will declare that if you wish to be a success, surround yourself with successful individuals and then mimic their actions and behaviors in order to reach your own summit of success. While this may sound as if it is solid advice, if you take the time to read the biographies of different successful people you will discover that there really is no clear or certain formula that can guarantee success.
Sociological studies have concluded that humans are a communal species. We rely upon the power and safety of groups in order to go beyond basic survival. Of course, within any group you will find some that are stronger, smarter, or more influential than others. What we seem to forget is that even though others may appear superior in certain aspects than the rest of the pack, none of those people are so arrogant as to believe that they no longer need the group to survive or thrive. It should also be granted that when faced with threats or problems, the group as a whole should carefully consider the advice of the brighter and brawnier members, but this does not mean that the rest of them should stop thinking and processing information.
An excellent example of listening to leaders yet demanding equal treatment and risk is to consider how wars are waged these days. We yield to the lawmakers to determine whether war is a feasible option, but when our leaders rush us to war but are unwilling to participate themselves or to allow their children or grandchildren to join the military, we should call their actions and decisions into question. When the masses simply become fodder so that our leaders, their cronies, and their relations can profit from the carnage, their judgment should clearly be suspect and their decisions challenged.
It used to be that truth was sought by leading thinkers and philosophers. Can it be that crass materialism and control over the masses is now more important and valuable than finding honest answers to the problems and concerns of humankind? For those who still honor truth and honesty, perhaps it’s time to dismantle the idols of self-made men and women and pursue causes that benefit all of humanity rather than the tiny slice of privileged bastards that want to rule the world and have the rest of us trust them that they will do right for the entire population.