We Built This City

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”  Barack Obama

I think the underlying disagreement as to whether success comes from an individual’s vision and applied will or from the nurturing of a community is akin to the debate over which came first, the chicken or the egg. The dynamics of the disagreement are circular until we recognize the spin that an unanswerable question places us in.

Like most political arguments both perspectives have an element of truth to them.

The most striking part of President Obama’s statement is the sentence, “Somebody else made that happen.”  Whether he literally meant to say exactly those words or not, it is typical of Obama’s use of language to be suggestive, sloppy and divisive.

If you’re arguing that communities are more powerful than individuals, in what contributes to the success of one’s business venture, fine, make the argument by staying on track, pointing to all the ways that individuals rely on others to achieve success. But to accuse an individual of not building their own successful business because “SOMEBODY ELSE made that happen” is a very telling slip. If somebody else made my success happen, how is it that another individual’s actions had the power that my individual actions don’t have? There’s the rub. Who is that somebody else?

I would argue that the irony of saying “somebody else” can only come from someone who is confused about the power any individual has and perhaps the extent of their own power. If credit can be given to me for my actions then likewise can I be blamed for them. To deny the freedom and responsibility needed to succeed or fail we run the risk of seeing ourselves and others as victims.

Only in the language of a victim does someone look backwards and to others to explain the path their on, continuously justifying their lot in life as if unaware of the choices they made that led them to their present circumstances. Victims therefore await the day when someone or something else comes along to fix the circumstances they find themselves in. They lack the skill or vision for participating in their own lives, perhaps carrying with them a lifetime of regrets, and so failing to come to terms with the very grown up question of where did I go wrong, what is in fact in my power to change and what is not?

A victim therefore will run the risk of not being able to own their successes in proportion to their need to blame others for their failures. The hard work of being human is rewarded when we can separate ourselves from others enough to acknowledge when we have failed and to continually seek self-correction through understanding and owning the consequences of our choices.

Needless to say, unless you’re still a child, somebody else can’t make your choices or decisions for you.

Thank you to Jefferson Starship for the theme:

“Say you don’t know me or recognize my face 
Say you don’t care who goes to that kind of place 
Knee deep in the hoopla sinking in your fight 
Too many runaways eating up the night “

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