During his presidency, Herbert Hoover coined the term “rugged individualism.” This is the idea that a person is not only capable of being autonomous but should remain autonomous in his affairs, not relying on the government to facilitate personal economic success or even national economic success. The term was born during the Great Depression and enforced the belief that the government should play a limited role in the lives of the American people.
I am not here to give an account of history, but rather to emphasize how this idea has extended beyond American politics and influenced the way we relate to the people around us, especially among people of my generation.
Independence and individuality are important, but the problem lies in their ability to overshadow a simple phenomenon — community. This word is often used but its essence has certainly been lost.
Community has come to signify those in your social circle or perhaps those you consider to be in your close sphere of influence. However, this word is an action or, better yet, a call to action. Xavier’s Jesuit identity calls us to be men and women for others, and, whatever your faith background may be, this Ignatian value recognizes something quite simple: we need each other.
Community, in its true definition, has been trampled by the attitude of “I will get mine and you get yours.” Such rugged individualism has created a social environment for my generation in which asking for help is weakness, the vanity-driven pursuit of glory is idolized and autonomous efforts are the most highly esteemed.
It is not my intention to completely reject individuality because, after all, it is individuals and their ideas, cultures and practices that make up a community. However, I am endeavoring to shed light on the need for our human family.
When we reach out to our fellow brothers and sisters, we understand that they are an extension of ourselves — other humans in this race called life. While we encounter many different struggles, backgrounds, cultures, faith practices and more, there is sound peace in knowing we can share those ideas and struggles. In many respects, this world has been reduced to rugged individualism, and dreadfully so. We must work to find opportunities to practice community and then put it into action, accepting a vulnerability that is unpopular but necessary.
I find peace in knowing I can share my ideas, dreams and goals with other humans not as a means to an end, but simply for the sake of sharing.