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The Myth of the Self-Made Man

Something that's been on my mind lately is how many people (Specifically here in the USA) claim that they've made it all on their own, that they've made it through life without any support, or that they've relied on nothing but themselves and hard work to reach their success. While I understand and appreciate the fervor of the human being in believing in their strength, I can't help but feel that they discount the role that their world plays in fostering it.

A man may come from poverty-stricken conditions, go through life while facing many obstacles, and reach unimaginable heights of success. The man faced adversity, he faced issues that more well-off people may not have, but to say that he (or anyone else in this country for that matter) made it all on his own is false. Access to food is dependent on the farmers and laborers that produce it, and he would not eat without them. Access to a means of transportation is dependent on those that produce and manage it, and he could not travel in our cities or towns without them. Access to drinking water is dependent on a dedicated group of people who manage the water supply, and the man would not have drinking water without them. And access to an education or practical skillset is dependent on those who instruct it, and as such the man can not learn without them. Even if these entities are acting only in self-interest or to make a profit, they provide the means for an individual to survive in our modern world. 

To call yourself a self-made person is noble, as you indeed do have inner strength and ability to fight your way through adversity. But it ignores the complex systems that make your success possible in the first place. Without others performing the work that tends to your basic needs or forming a world where you can crawl out of such adversity, you may well have ended up dead in a ditch. 

The world is more than just yourself, despite how alienating and lonely it may feel at times. And with that understanding, I believe it's important to understand the overwhelming amount of background cooperation that exists for you to have the opportunities you have in the first place. Something as simple as having a paved path to walk on depends on the cooperation of others to ease the journeys of everyone else. You have both directly and indirectly relied on others to bolster your own success.

It would be good to remember that.


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