We Did It All by Ourselves

In reviewing NCUA’s board agenda today, I was reminded of two different explanations about how one succeeds in our country.

Two paradigms influence most thoughts about a person’s role in American society and its economy.

One is the image of heroic individualism, the self-made person.

The second suggests  that life is lived and uplifted in community.

Credit unions embody both impulses.   Individuals combine to help each other succeed with their specific hopes and dreams.

“Captain of My Soul”

The poem “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley ends with these words:  “I am the master of my fate,/I am the captain of my soul.”

Todd Harper’s first speech in February 2021 following his appointment  as NCUA Chair began with these words: “when I first became Chairman, I issued my Commander’s Call to the agency.”

One academic’s comment on Henley’s poem:

The advantage of being a great captain of one’s soul is that no one else need be consulted; those in our culture who are masters of their fates do not, in other words, do a great deal of “discerning.”

Author Kate Bowler writes about this same human impulse with irony:

I am self-made. Didn’t anyone tell you? I brought myself into the world when I decided to be born on a bright Monday morning. Then I figured out how cells replicate to grow my own arms and legs and head to a reasonable height and size. Then I filled my own mind from kindergarten to graduation with information I gleaned from the great works of literature. . . . 

I’m joking, but sometimes it feels like the pressure we are under. An entire self-help and wellness industry made sure that we got the memo: we are supposed to articulate our lives as a solitary story of realization and progress. Work. Learn. Fix. Change. Every exciting action sounds like it is designed for an individual who needs to learn how to conquer a world of their own making.

In contrast, her understanding of  achievement is:

It’s hard to remember a deeper, comforting truth: we are built on a foundation not our own. We were born because two other people created a combination of biological matter. We went to schools where dozens and dozens of people crafted ideas and activities to construct categories in our minds. We learned skills honed by generations of craftspeople.

Discerning Responses to Today’s Agenda

Effective credit union leaders, at their best, recognize this ego-centered temptation when becoming  ”commanders.” They understand that achievements are because of the foundation of other’s efforts-past and present.

Pay attention as you hear or later read about Board members’ comments on today’s topics.  A good example may be the discussion of the CLF’s future.   Listen for those who see themselves as Captains and those “who are  building on a foundation not their own.”



One Reply to “We Did It All by Ourselves”

  1. Bowler’s sentiments call out to me. I’ve always felt the same way, that we do not “create” ourselves. We are always the product of environment. People are /not/ individual cells capable of accomplishing anything on their own; I see people as cells in a much larger organism called humanity. We would be wise to see ourselves in that manner.

    No person was ever born a hero or a pariah. Although nature certainly plays a role, it is actually WE, as a society, determine who the heroes and pariahs will be, according to our own designs. Even the so-called great men of history had to have certain elements in their favor to accomplish what they did. For one thing, they had to have followers. Without the rest of us, their accomplishments would have amounted to nearly nothing.

    It is not realistic to expect people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That is a mantra invented by people who were born into wealth, or otherwise became one of the many who were fortunate enough to be visited by lucky breaks or a winning lottery ticket. Self-improvement workshops can be constructive and enriching to one’s self, but they are not a solution to problems and impedances created by conditions originating outside of an individual’s own choices.

    The only real solutions are the ones that society, as a group, decides to pursue. Of course, history shows that societies can fail. But leaving it to the individual to thrive against ridiculous odds mounted upon them is cruel and unfair, especially as one tiny class of society continually thrives, nearly effortlessly. A cooperative mindset will really be the only way to meet humanity’s basic needs.

    It is refreshing, no, nearly life-affirming, to hear this position after a lifetime of frustration and exclusion, where a minority gets to win practically all the time, and the victims are blamed for the miseries heaped upon them. We can choose to create more heroes and pariahs, or we can choose to include everyone in our collective gains and misfortunes.

    Social responsibility: It is time to change the human mind about everything.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *