It goes without saying that no one achieves anything on his or her own . . .
Or does it?
The truth is no one achieves anything alone, but we often fail to see it that way. Western individualism comes to the fore when people really believe their success is self-made, that they are independent achievers, or that they are in control of their destiny.
Nothing could be further from reality. We are dependent beings. First, we are utterly dependent on God, the source of life, abilities and opportunities, and all good things. Second, one of those good things is the gift of community. We are codependent, and this is inherently good.
Only according to the modern western mindset could we imagine that complete autonomy is a good thing. Historically, cultures have always recognized our mutual need for each other, and have encouraged and cultivated such mutual dependence.
Our mutual dependence has not lessened, but our recognition of it has changed. We’ve succumbed to the lie that we can be truly independent; that no one else can affect our outcomes because “it is up to me to succeed.”
The One . . .
The Bible always displays a wonderful both/and dynamic when it comes to individuals and communities—the one and the many. The scriptures avoid extreme individualism on the one hand and extreme socialism on the other. Community is cherished, but not at the expense of the individual.
We can’t even operate outside the parameters of these social environments, let alone achieve anything meaningful without them.This dynamic can be applied directly to achievement in two ways. First, no individual can achieve in isolation of others, despite the popular rhetoric to the contrary. We need family, friends, neighborhoods, colleagues, political structures, and so forth. We can’t even operate outside the parameters of these social environments, let alone achieve anything meaningful without them.
Writing is the most “solo” activity in my experience. But even in writing, I am dependent on others. Someone taught me to read and to write. I received an education. Others helped to shape my worldview, and various theological commitments. Yet others stimulate my thinking—providing information, challenging preconceived ideas, and offering feedback. I rely on editors. And, of course, I need readers! Writing is not a solo task at all—it only feels that way.
So if my most solo task is not at all solo, how much more is that true of other endeavors?
. . . and the Many
Second, there is a place for community achievement. That is, a community may, as a whole, reach toward a goal together. A family, a neighborhood, a workplace, even a nation, may work together to achieve communal goals. Again, this notion seems rather foreign to the attitudes fostered by Western individualism. But it is an important element in the arena of achievement.
When the author to the Hebrews says, “let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works” (Heb 10:24, HCSB), he cannot only be thinking of so-called “spiritual” good deeds. The sacred/secular divide is foreign to the Bible because God is the God of all of life. This means that we are to promote all good deeds within the community of God’s people. We are to be communally minded in the pursuit of good things, whether they are related to moral behavior or the performance of certain tasks. Good deeds are to be promoted. Good deeds occur with the encouragement and support of the community.
So, let us promote good deeds within our church communities, families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and political entities. We are all mutually dependent in our activities and achievements. And may our communities work together for the achievement of all good things.