Rocks, bells and our inescapable bonds in humanity

historic-bell.jpg

It seems a large portion of our society wants to emulate or, perhaps, become a rock. Not a rock in the sense of the spoiled, hedonistic, “rock star” boobs who populate the covers of tabloids, but rather a rock in the sense they are immovable in their self-reliance.

In many ways, this is one of the great attributes of this part of the country — people here are, by and large, self-sufficient.

In a society that increasingly looks to government to solve its problems, and aggres­sively avoids personal responsibility, the majority of people around here still seem to take care of things for themselves, to put in the effort and make the sacrifices necessary to provide for themselves, their families and their com­munity.

Self-sufficiency is a wonderful thing, but like most good things, it can turn on you if you take it too far.

Self-reliance is generally considered a sign of personal strength, and rightfully so. The ability to face problems and resolve them for yourself is a sign of resourcefulness. It is a characteristic to be cultured in yourself and sought out in those with whom you surround yourself.

But, for all its laudable characteristics, I would argue self-reliance can easily reach and surpass a point of diminishing returns.

When we take self-sufficiency to the point we can no longer recognize our own limita­tions, when we let pride drive us past the point of our own capabilities, then we have departed from self-reliance and entered into a realm of self-denial and destruction.

The ability to stand alone on our own capa­bilities is a tremendous personal trait, and one to strive for in our daily lives.

With great self-reliance, however, often comes the misconception that needing or accepting help is a sign of weakness. And, this belief of­ten leads us to look down on or isolate those in need of help, as though their need of assistance is somehow contagious.

This aversion often is the strongest when we recognize the need for help in ourselves. By resigning ourselves to the mere possibility of needing help, we tend to see ourselves and others as being less strong, of being somehow weak.

True collective and individual strength, how­ever, comes not from ignoring the limitations and needs of ourselves and our loved ones. True strength, I argue, comes from the ability to recognize when we have reached the point of our own limitations, when we need to seek help for ourselves and those about whom we care.

Put simply, everybody needs help from time to time. If we refuse to acknowledge that, we only separate ourselves from the strength that comes from abandoning selfish pride, and pursuing the collective force that overcomes all individual boundaries and shortfalls.

In essence, it may be romantic, or attractive, to think of ourselves like a rock in the ocean that is immovable, and does not need or accept the input of outside forces. Perhaps it would be good to remember such rocks are generally good for two things: collecting seagull droppings and wrecking hapless mariners.

Despite our best intentions and most robust delusions, we are not solitary hunks of granite that can ignore the forces of man and nature. No, not even you. We are, all of us, soft, fleshy humans who are eventually going to need the help of others if we ever hope to become a part of something greater than ourselves.

In the end, we all are connected to each other. When one of us is in need, we all are in need. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one hungers, well, I hope you get the point.

To quote the poem “No Man is an Island,” by 16th century poet and Anglican priest John Donne, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

When we ignore our common bonds to all in humanity, and to their needs and pains, we do not make ourselves great.

We make ourselves something less than the full potential of our God-given humanity.

None of us is a rock. Nor are any of our neighbors rocks.

So, when our neighbors languish in poverty, hunger, pain, fear and violence, do not ask for whom the bell tolls.

It tolls for thee, and me. It tolls for us all.

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