We long for connections to others. We want to belong to something greater than ourselves. At the same time, we demand autonomy and freedom from constraints imposed by virtue of belonging to a group. These opposing pulls cause stress on both institutions and individuals as we try to meet the requirements of our outer and inner worlds. How do we genuinely balance our need to be self-determining persons and, at the same time, contributing members of society?
The answer depends on our definitions. If my interpretation of self-determination is how much I can gain for myself in terms of power, prestige and wealth, then the possibilities for balance between a person and community are negligible. On the other hand, if I characterize myself primarily by my role in a given social unit, then I risk losing my true identity.
Community in the fullest sense of the word does not thrive in an atmosphere of either self-centeredness or subservience. Both of these tendencies are corrosive elements that gradually destroy community from within even though it may appear at first glance that a community is thriving. This happens in cults where members enthusiastically affirm the life-enhancing qualities of the group even while the egoism of the leader and the subordination of the followers create a devouring monster that eventually consumes all psychologically or physically or both.
Communities and individuals flourish when they serve each other out of a genuine willingness to realize for each other the ultimate goal of self-determination: to love and to be loved in return. When love is made real, the community envisioned by Cesar Chavez is made real:
“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
April 7, 2022