Beware the Rugged Individualist

When I was living in Sacramento decades ago, getting my teaching credential and later working for the HR manager of a downtown firm, I often rode the city buses.  The thing about buses is that you're thrown together with strangers.  Much like when you're standing in a line, you have a connection.  You're all trying to get where you're going, and there's a type of mutual recognition and respect.

You really see this when there's some sort of "incident" during the ride – someone is rude or in some way breaks the unwritten rules of behavior – and everyone rallies around to make sure things are set right.  Everyone's going in the same direction, invested in having this situation work the way it's supposed to.


Not so self-sufficient after all

We love our individuality, don't we?  That's why most of us prefer to drive our own cars.  We don't want to be dependent on the bus route or schedule, and we don't want to ride around with a bunch of strangers.  We have this idea that we can do our own thing, and we pretend we're not connected with other people.

There's a history of this rugged individualism in the United States.  It's part of that "pioneer spirit" we revere – the strength of character to make your own way and stake your own claim, bravely and stoically dealing with all challenges to eventually become settled and prosperous.

And yet... most of those historical pioneers travelled in wagon trains for safety and security.  They relied on their community for help in sickness and bad weather, and later for raising barns and maintaining law and order.

And today, notice what happens when there's a flood, fire, earthquake, or tornado.  All of a sudden, we're in each other's business, helping each other out, sharing information and whatever else we have – rallying around to make sure things are set right.

We're not just separate cars on a highway, driving however we please.  We're bound up together, whether we realize it or not.

The value of interdependence

Beware that rugged individualist inside yourself that says you have got where you are by your own efforts.  If you're honest, you'll realize that you've had help and support from others all along.

Freedom and self-determination are gifts we should prize.  But we're never so independent that we don't need anyone else.  After all, we're all striving for a good life, invested in having things work out in positive ways.

It's our ability to work together that has allowed humans to survive, and as members of a community we can accomplish so much more together than we can on our own.  Let's remember that this Independence Day.


  1. This is such a good reminder. I always love to read your articles. I gain new insight every time


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