President Obama was correct in his “You didn’t build that…” comments. If you read around the sound bite for context you’ll discover that he was talking about all the larger things that make individual success possible. There’s truth there.
Individuals have ideas. Individuals have plans. Individuals have dreams. Individuals take risks. Yet all of that is surrounded by all kinds of resources, people, infrastructure, and community that allow those individual things to flourish. You may be the founder and boss but you need others, employees, buyers, sellers, water pipes, roads, phone lines, a lot of things to make what you envisioned happen.
I think the rich and powerful often forget this. No one is self made, one way or another we need each others. One way or another we have some kind of responsibility to each other. There is a common good and not simply a collection of individual goods that have somehow agreed to live with each other.
Yet, at the same time, I don’t think its the state’s task to enforce that understanding, to pick winners and losers and artificially create identical outcomes. When the state does this some people feel entitled and others become resentful. Everyone sees their success in terms of power, of manipulating the state to their advantage, of making the system work for them and excluding others.
What’s really needed is something beyond politics, something much more difficult. What’s needed is a moral and spiritual sea change and frankly we’ve got our work cut out for us. Those who have need to understand the reality behind what they have acquired and understand that much is required from those to whom much has been given. Their hearts need to be warmed to the common good, to the least of these, and the reality that everything is actually on temporary loan from the Giver and there will be an accounting. Those who have less need to be given more to industry, to supporting each other in good habits and life that make for betterment and less to envy and anger.
Yet we do have our work cut out for us because the Christian impulse that would call the rich to philanthrophy and the poor to industry has nearly disappeared. We increasingly ask the government to do what we should be doing. We ask our leaders to make the changes we need to make. We’re always one election away from our utopia even as we fail to understand that the world is always going to be the product, for good or ill, of its inhabitants. While our eyes are glued to the television the solution is in our mirror.
Until we get this, and act on it, everything will remain the same and the same means going nowhere.