If what we do is who we are then what have we become?

January 15, 2010

With friends like these…

More often than not, the comments made to a blog are pithy or trite. But not always. On my last post were some amazing and very touching remarks. I attribute that more to the topic than anything I might have brought to it. Still, a writer -any writer- has to be pleased when his material elicits such a powerful reaction. Thank you!

To reprise, the pastor of my church (John Buchanan of Fourth Presbyterian) gave a sermon last Sunday on personal identity and what it means to society and, ultimately, God. While he covered many points, I chose to focus on his observation that we Americans tend to identify ourselves, first and foremost, by vocation. He feared that living by such a self-absorbed credo takes us away from loved ones, obligations and even God.

For myself, I could not deny it. My self worth is inextricably tied to my role as a writer, be it of copy, editorial, fiction or blogging. I wondered (and worried) if by doing this I was guilty of denying my family (and myself) of true satisfaction and serenity.

Clearly, I am not the only one with such concerns. Newcomers and professionals alike weighed in on the topic with great passion. Read their comments. Then consider Buchanan’s full sermon.

Perhaps our self-centeredness needs self-appraisal. Mine certainly does. Yet, rather than pursue this argument I’d like to examine, very briefly, the ‘why’ of the matter. Why are we so fixated on our careers and accomplishments?

In a word: Pride. It’s one of the seven deadly sins and maybe, in the big picture, the worst of them. But in my book, pride was always a good thing. I grew up longing to make my father and others proud of me. Who didn’t? But somehow this noble intention became warped. I became wrapped up in achievement. Self-centered in the extreme. Writing turned me inward and I never looked back.

In this country, success is the measure of a man. Parents want their kids to get into the right schools and hang out with the right crowd. Why? That they might be successful. Fathers dream of sons catching touchdowns. Mothers dream their daughters will marry doctors and lawyers, if not become one. No parent I know wants their children to grow up into social workers. Even becoming a teacher is considered a let down. Those that cannot do, teach.

Fact is pulling oneself up from his bootstraps is our country’s greatest myth. Rising from meager beginnings to fantastic wealth. That’s the story of Horatio Alger. That’s the story of America. At their best, the Republicans rally around this clarion. “It’s morning (again) in America,” begins the copy of Hal Riney’s brilliant TV commercial, which helped elect Ronald Reagan to President… Ayn Rand pushed us too far, but try telling that to a college sophomore looking for direction… “Greed is good,” took us even further, defining the eighties… And we ate is up. I did anyway.

Well, I’ve since seen the sun go down many mornings in America: September 11. The war in Iraq. A crippling recession. It gets pretty dark. Especially if you’re alone, fumbling around looking for bootstraps.

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