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The Greater Good

“We are burdened with over-realization. Not that we can perceive too clearly the rights and wrongs of every human being but that we feel too deeply our own, to find in the end that what has meaning only for each one alone has no real meaning at all.” — Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way

There’s a contradiction in the world that chafes. We’re all individuals, making our way in this world, trying to live our best life. But we’re also part of something so much bigger than ourselves, part of communities, of nations, and of a species that often forgets that we’re all in this together. Individuals landed on the moon, but what resonated when they did so were the foothold they established for humanity.

Humans are burdened by individualism, even as individualism stretches our limits and moves us forward. All progress depends on the observation of individuals that what we have isn’t quite enough, and the decision to then do something about it. Unfortunately, all the violence, violation and hatred in history come from a similar place. The irony of the Ancient Greeks is that they saw the contribution of the individual to the greater good as paramount, and created the very idea of democracy. But at the same time, they had slaves and fought wars to ensure that they’d receive more slaves (or become slaves if they lost). They were far from perfect, but they pursued Arete, or Excellence, just the same.

We might believe the stakes aren’t quite so high for us today. But aren’t they? We’re in a fight for democracy against the autocrats of the world, home and abroad. A few decades of relative peace has made us complacent, but the pendulum will swing towards democracy or autocracy until checked. Things are very much in play even now.

The problems in the world generally come down to a crisis in leadership. When we have lesser people in powerful positions, we slide backwards or run off the tracks.. When we have exceptional leaders, we rise to meet the challenges of the moment and the world resets itself. Who are leaders but individuals reaching or exceeding their limitations? We are the choices we make, collectively.

The paradox of living in the modern world is the blessing and curse of individualism. Everyone is so ensnared in themselves and the screen in front of their faces that they forget that we’re each a part of something much bigger than ourselves. When we look at the problems in the world today, they often come down to self-interest. When we look at the greatest accomplishments we’ve made in history, they’re often the result of collective contribution. With this in mind, it seems the answer to much of our problems lies in rising to meet the moment, together.

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