All around me, people are engaged in pursuits. Personal ventures. Journeys. Marathons. Self-discovery.
These are the well-known pursuits. These are the ones that we have come to expect. The thirty-something has pride on the line as he dons his iPod and prepares for the half-marathon. It says, “I’ve still got it.” Somewhere there’s a small-business woman who keeps pushing through levels of exhaustion that would do most of us in to make her business succeed. It says, “This is what I can accomplish when I stick with it.” We do our counselors proud when we have a moment of epiphany. We say, “I’m finding myself.”
We’re deep, spiritual beings, us humans. Our souls run deep into the existential realm. We can pursue ourselves for a lifetime, identifying desires and working hard to meet them, analyzing shifts in our passions and aiming our longings at other targets. Contributing to the notion that the west is incredibly materialistic is this very inward drive. Those scratching the surface in this journey often respond by buying clothes or cars or catamarans. It’s not hard to understand why much of the world takes this self-centeredness for granted.
At our core, though, I don’t believe that our culture, or any person, is wired to be self-consumed. I don’t believe that we are designed to be islands unto ourselves, to exist as idealized individuals.
And our rampant materialism proves it.
I would argue that our pursuit of positions and possessions are more an indication of a desire for community than anything else. Yes, it’s obviously misdirected, but it speaks volumes. Some will argue otherwise, but I have a strong sense that most luxuries we pursue have much to do with our standing relative to others. I don’t just mean in terms of comparisons – i.e. Look at my thing; my thing is better than your thing, therefore I’m better than you.
There’s also the desire to fill the role of provider.
We have come to a point in this crazy journey called the “human race” where need and want are nearly synonymous. Take this completely believable example: Maybe you own a high speed train. Given that we’ve misconstrued one’s want to ride on a high-speed train with a need to ride on a high-speed train, your offer for me to ride your high-speed train is actually contributing to community. It may well be driving your self-centeredness and feelings of grandeur through the roof…. I get that. But we have a notion that the community benefits as well.
You can feel free to replace “high-speed train” with “sailboat,” “awesome sick car,” or “deck with an incredible pool and to-die-for grill.” It all works the same (except for riding on the grill which could get to be slightly less confortable than the sail boat).
Even in what seems like were being selfish, perhaps we’re being community-ish.
We exist in a culture where the dominant message reinforces a strong sense of self-worth, self-dependance, and self-reward. It’s impossible not to incorporate some of these concepts into out daily routine and understanding. But even in the most extreme examples, I argue, that there is an underlying innate sense of community life – dare I say, of communal life. A world where what I have is (somewhat) yours.
There are plenty of questions to be raised at this point about trust and choice and freedom and liberty and Russia and China. Even as tribesmen we shared the spoils of the hunt with our tribe while we tried to annihilate other tribes.
I’m simply saying that maybe the fame and fortune and position and possessions that we’re pursuing is not all meant for ourselves.
And if that’s the case, what else can we do for our community?