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Radical individualism harms us all, even those who practice it

St. Cloud Times logo St. Cloud Times 11/28/2021 Ben Ament

It has been a bit of a shock to see Minnesota at or near the top of the COVID-19 infection rates these past few weeks. There is perhaps no better time than the holiday season to remember that we are all in this together.

Blame for the infection rate lies at the foot of a radical individualism that has gripped the nation. Unfortunately for that form of individualism, we live in community.

The simple truth about life is that we cannot survive in isolation. Studies show that lack of human interaction and stimulation can lead to depression, illness and even death, in extreme circumstances. We were made to care about and for one another.

So, why are we so hell-bent on embracing a radical individualism that ignores this basic truth?

Radical individualism pushes the idea that government healthcare mandates are a sign of encroaching socialism. Radical individualism promotes the notion that you and I are not responsible for the health of our friends and family, much less our neighbors.

This is nonsense.

At its core the insistence that the individual is more important than the community is raw selfishness.

Seventeenth century English poet John Donne recognized that community extended beyond our front doors in his poem “No Man is an Island.” To paraphrase Donne, we are all part of the whole and are diminished by any single person’s death.

I am reminded of the wisdom parable often attributed to a Cherokee elder. The parable is about the internal struggle we all encounter. In the legend, the elder presents life’s issues to his grandson as two wolves fighting inside him. One wolf embodies the evil embodied in anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other wolf exemplifies the good attributes of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

The grandfather tells his progeny that this battle between the wolves goes on inside each of us. After thinking about this for a while, the grandson asks who will win the internal battle. Grandfather’s profound response is that the winner will be the one you feed.  

Dominant society is feeding the evil wolf right now.

It is easy to be outraged at intentional cruelty and indifference to the suffering of others or the recurring madness of war. One would think that the opposites would be embraced by all of us.

Instead, dominant culture (radical individualism) is outraged that our government wants us to be kind and embrace our friends, families and neighbors by wearing masks and getting vaccinated.   

It is increasingly difficult to believe in the fundamental goodness of humankind when people refuse to use the readily available tools to protect their fellow human beings. It is false pride that makes them feel angry at a system that is doing nothing more than promoting a healthy community through proven science.

The Cherokee elder’s wisdom is both practical and empowering.  At its essence the teaching is simple: We become good by practicing goodness. If our hearts are open, we entertain the possibility that we do not do some things for ourselves. Some things are done because we are part of a larger whole and we do good things for members of that community.

The food for the wolves inside us is comprised of the thoughts we hold, the stories we tell, the company we keep, even the heroes we look up to. We feed those ravenous wolves with the shame, blame, and guilt or with the forgiveness, acceptance and praise we spread. We feed those wolves with actions and words. The books we read, the scripture we turn to, the songs we sing and listen to, the walks we take all feed our heart and soul.

Trading a small amount of individual freedom today for actions that promote a healthy community for the future seems a reasonable exchange.

Take the long view this holiday season instead and do something for friends ands family that they cannot do for themselves: vaccinate and wear a mask in groups.

The unvaccinated and unmasked put radical individualism over community welfare.

The holiday season is a good time to put community first.

— This is the opinion of Times Writers Group member Ben Ament, world citizen. He hopes to leave that world slightly better than he found it. His column is published the fourth Sunday of the month.

This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: Radical individualism harms us all, even those who practice it

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