Individualism or interdependence?
The mission of UU A Way Of Life is to improve spiritual health, reduce immoral and sinful behavior, and work across systems for positive societal change. This article is another in a series of articles on reducing immoral and sinful behavior. “Sinful” in the context of the UU A Way Of Life mission statement is defined as mistaken. The mission statement could read, “reducing immoral and mistaken behavior” but the mistakes being referred to are ones that cause spiritual injury and so we use the word “sinful.”.
The sixth component of spiritual health is the felt connection to the interdependent web. What is the opposite of felt connection to the interdependent web? It is individuality. It is looking out for and advocating for numero uno. It is uplifting the ego in place of the mutual welfare.
As the poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island,” and yet, especially in America with its ethic of rugged individualism, we act as if he is separate unto himself with no regard for the environment and ecosystem within which he lives.
We extract resources for profit. This is the basis of our capitalistic system with no regard for what are called the “externalities” which are the hidden costs which don’t get factored in the price paid.
When we were children we were encouraged to share. Generosity was seen as a virtue, but then as we grew older accumulation of wealth was promoted as the primary criteria of “success.” This accumulation of wealth whether it be material, psychological, social, physical, and even spiritual has been held up as the epitome of achievement. The glorification of individual performance is the hubris that is destroying us in these days of Covid-19 and climate warming.
We are quickly coming to learn about public health consequences of our behaviors which contribute to “herd” infection and death. We are learning about supply chains and the importance of their integrity to deliver the goods. We are quickly becoming aware of our interdependence and the fissures and fracturing of our safety net. We are learning who performs “essential” work, and who are nonessential and exist merely for entertainment and unnecessary luxury.
Obliviousness about the interdependent web in which we exist and live is one of the cardinal sins of our age and will be the cause of immense suffering and death and perhaps extinction of our species.
How do we diminish this obliviousness of the interdependent web of which we are a part? We must teach ourselves and others to diminish the ego and empathize with others. Some might name it compassion, but it is more than that, it is a humility to recognize and acknowledge that we are a part of something greater than ourselves. We are called to join with and nurture and respect that something greater. Some would call it “reverence” and even “piety.”
The key skill is learning to connect the dots and recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate the wholeness (holiness) of the systems in which we participate.
We have a choice in what to put our faith: individualism or the interdependent web of which we all are a part.