We’re all in this together

I hate living in a battleground state.

There’s a lot of nonsense that’s being slung by both sides. Frankly my wife and I are using Netflix and some DVR fast-forwarding to avoid the worst of it. But there’s one bit of doggerel being flung around by a number of my conservative and Christian friends (and commercials in general) that needs to be addressed:

“You didn’t build that.”

America has a dual relationship with success. We are united as a society, but individual in our triumphs. Small business owners create jobs, and yet we blame the government for unemployment.

Why is it a hard concept to admit that while hard work and determination are always a factor in success; luck, timing and the efforts of others are just as important? Any company that ships things on trucks relies on the highway infrastructure. Any business that sells something on the internet relies on not only their own data-centers, but the data-centers, servers, switches and hubs of thousands of others. And any company that relies on electricity relies on the power grid.

It’s not practical for us to build everything by ourselves. Factories used to make their own electricity (or at least power machinery with water wheels). But it isn’t cost effective, especially in a competitive market, to build every part, supply every need in house. You need other people.

Let’s take a look at a very individualistic profession, authors. I think self-published writers may have one of the best cases for individualistic success. They write their own material, and they put it out into the marketplace. Except for that marketplace to exist someone had to create the internet, credit cards, and devices to read books. Any good author also has beta readers, editors, and for non-fiction the dozens of previous works done by the authors who came before them.

It’s arrogant to think that all it takes to succeed is your own desire, your own sweat, your time and your investment. It isn’t humble. It isn’t grateful. And frankly it isn’t very Christian.

“With God all things are possible” kind of implies we might need a little help. We’re called to live in community. We’re called to sacrifice our will for God’s will, and the Bible doesn’t seem to put a lot of stock in material wealth.

I’m not saying that building a business, whether it’s selling books, or selling widgets, isn’t something you shouldn’t be proud of. It’s true that business wouldn’t exist if you hadn’t put your mind to it. But that wasn’t the only factor. Your employees put in their time, their effort. Your customers support you not only with money but word of mouth and brand loyalty. And yes, you rely on a lot of things the government, other business, and the society as a whole have put in place for you to succeed.

The phrase should be: “You didn’t build that alone.”

I don’t think it’s wrong to want to keep some of the fruits of your labor. But I also feel that we owe a debt to those who helped us, both directly and indirectly. And as Christians we should know that in the end everything is God’s and that we are called to be stewards, not owners of wealth.

I’m pulling for ya, we’re all in this together.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “We’re all in this together

  1. Context matters. I personally believe the phrase “you didn’t build that alone” is appropriate either. The question is, what is “that”?

    If we’re talking about the business… you better believe that every business person built that business on their own. My parents had a failed business, and if wasn’t them that made it successful for the period that it was, then where was the rest of society that helped the build it when the business died and hurt my family for years? We surly didn’t get any bailouts…

    If we’re talking about the infrastructure (electric — as you mentioned, roads, water, sewer, etc), then yes the public at large has a lot to do with helping businesses succeed, but then again, the businesses themselves have little to do with building any infrastructure… except they did (excepting the large road infrastructures). Private businesses are the ones that built out much of the electric, telecommunications and other utility infrastructures. I don’t believe it was until the 60’s or 70’s that the government started issuing grants and subsidy for these buildouts (could be wrong, trying to find out for sure). Even given that, most utility companies still invest far more private capital today than our government. I don’t mean to diminish the goals and successes of the government, the fed has certainly forced infrastructure and good regulation into places we never would have seen such enhancements, however, yes… we did build that.

    I take your point very well that no business exists in a vacuum and even as individuals we’re all interdependent. However, the speech that you’re talking about, and the reason why I think many conservatives are upset, presented the idea that we’re all beholden to the government and that it is the government that makes our society great.

    • Speaking as someone still living in Ohio, things were better when AEP was a regulated monopoly than when it is competing in the marketplace (see trees that need to be cut near power lines, an inability to restore power for over a week, and still wanting to increase power rates to customers who don’t really know the alternatives they can turn to).

      But that’s a little off the point. I’m not trying to diminish the accomplishments (or failures) of individuals, but certain dreams (no matter whether they succeed or fail) wouldn’t be possible without the things provided by one another, and yes sometimes the government. People are what makes society great, and some people work for the government because they feel that is one way to make society even better.

      And I still think as Christians we need to think before we speak on this issue. A lot of conservatives and christian friends of mine get strident about their wealth being taken away. If their argument was that the government would not be as good of a steward for God as they could be, then maybe I’d buy it. But it doesn’t come off that way. Romney in particular doesn’t strike me as someone who’s too worried about what God wants him to do with his money.

      I can agree that this isn’t Obama’s best speech. Some of what he was trying to say was less clear, and open to the interpretation that many conservatives are upset about (if they didn’t listen to the whole speech or follow the logic of his argument). Regardless of what Obama or Romney say, I stand by the stance that it is important to think about more than just ourselves in this world. A triumph alone is not nearly as sweet as a triumph together. After all, if we succeed alone, who are we sharing that success with?

      • HEY! I’m trying to get back to OH 😦 If nothing else so that we can finally finish season 5 of B5. Although… I’m sure you and Brian have long since moved on without me.

  2. Luke A. Corwin

    For the full context: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/07/13/remarks-president-campaign-event-roanoke-virginia

    I appreciate the post, especially the Red Green quote at the end 🙂

  3. I liked the idea of this post more than the actual points. I don’t know if I can explain. I believe we are all united in some way because we are connected – and because of this connection we are indebted to our fellow man. Yes a lot of people will try and drag you down and destroy things but it is our responsibiltiy to recognise these people and remove the power of destruction from them (tall order I know). But if we are aware of our own power to hurt or transform others then perhaps the good in this world will become the stronger force. I don’t want to sound too preachery. I have 2 teenagers living in my house and I want them to live in a home that is filled with hope for the possible.

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