It Takes a Community to Build

The story link read, “Obama Dashes American Dream, Suggests Nobody Achieves Success Alone.” I don’t normally read political articles that people put up on Facebook, but I had to click on it because I thought, “Well, of course nobody achieves success on their own.”

Though the article cast what the President said in a negative light, here’s the major quote:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

That’s good and that’s true. That is something we should all affirm no matter what your political affiliation is. It isn’t dashing the American Dream, that is simply life as it is. Nothing that is built on this earth is built by a single individual’s hands. We were all helped and shaped—for good and for bad—by any number of people.

A successful business needs backers, people who taught that leader what he or she knows, gave him or her a chance to get their feet wet or showed the person what not to do. Plus you aren’t creating the market economy out of a vacuum. That’s been around for a long time.

Great artists may produce original art, but they are often inspired by scores of artists before them. Plus there is no medium that can exist in a total void. Movies and television require crews of hundreds if not thousands. Even the solo musician had to have been taught or inspired, they need someone to help them record, people to make the instruments and recording apparatuses.

Heck, to jump off the movie that’s on everyone’s mind this week: the story of Batman is not about one man’s war on crime. Bruce Wayne is nothing without his parents, Alfred, Lucius Fox, Commissioner Gordon, and countless others.

Individualism, purportedly one of Western Civilization’s crowning virtues, is an illusion. Everything there is results from a community. If we think of something, whether it be a business or a lesson taught at school, as primarily “mine” then we are fooling ourselves. You could have had the biggest hand in it, but it is not just yours. To think otherwise is arrogant at best, idolatrous at worst.

We are part of community, we are the product of community, and we need community.

Even our faith—something in American evangelicalism that is often described as a personal relationship with Jesus—needs community to thrive and mature. We need community with God (And how important is community? God demonstrates community within the Trinity), but community with fellow believers. Scripture is always addressing communities: families, nations, disciples, churches. We need people to nurture us, challenge us, hold us accountable, encourage us, and we are called to do the same for others. After all, love for God and for others is the greatest commandment that Jesus gave us.

All of that is something that struck me as I read that article claiming the statement that no one is successful on their own is dashing the American Dream. I know this came in a political context and there’s layers to all of that, but that sentiment just ridiculous. I need community. I want community. And if the American Dream is me being able to look at my life and say, “I did this all on my own,” then I don’t want the American Dream. That dream is nowhere close to what is real.

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