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.”