Posts Tagged ‘individualism’

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In a world daily ripped apart by violence, hatred, and pain; a world where religious zealotry and irrational dogma routinely takes precedence over love and respect; a world where individual achievement is routinely sacrificed on the altar of conformity; Newberry and his art shine like a spotlight on the all too often ignored values of individual human existence and the power of striving for personal greatness.

Every day, I live in the presence of an array of pastels, prints, and paintings that help me remember how beautiful and noble it is to strive to be one’s best. These are “Our Newberrys”. These are our inspiration.

I remember how touched Patt and I were when, as a show of compassion and concern following Patt’s breast cancer surgeries, Michael called to tell Patt he was naming one of his female nudes in her honor. That was not about money or publicity or the “trader principle” of his Objectivist ethics.  That was simply an expression of love from one individual human soul to another. We remember that to this very day.

I love the non-representational works, the Judaica, the sculpture, and, really, every piece in my collection. I even love my own glasswork and photographs. But, only Newberry reminds me, every day, that my individual human life has intrinsic value. For that I will always cherish his art and his friendship!

I used to have a quote written on my whiteboard at work. It reminded me of something that I consider really important. I recently erased it because too many people did not immediately understand it and I don’t feel like taking time to explain things when I need to be getting my job done. It it, however, not a quote that I’ll ever remove from my heart, my mind, or my system of personal ethics. The quote is from Dr. Nathaniel Branden, during a talk on the foundations of self-acceptance. It says:

“It’s not about what THEY think; it’s about what YOU know”.

To me, that sentence seems very straightforward. Yet, more than one person thought that what it meant was that I don’t care about what other people think of me. Just to be really clear, that is NOT what it means. For better or for worse, the first impression that one projects to another is the one that lasts. If you want to survive in a world where you work for someone else, where people have specific expectations, and where you represent a team, the impression you make on others matters. I KNOW THAT.

But, there is a big difference between presenting ones self in a particular external form and having an internal sense of self-efficacy and self-acceptance. There is nothing wrong with liking who you are and believing that you have as much right to live and anyone else. The Branden quotation is not about external presentation, it is about internal definition. It is not about ignoring what others think; it is about not letting others be the primary criteria by which you define yourself.

That is why I want to live by the rule that Branden’s statement defines. I won’t stop liking opera just because my friends don’t like it. I won’t stop writing poetry just because I’m a product manager not a poet. I won’t stop using humor as my way of balancing my stress just because someone doesn’t think I’m adequately stoic. I won’t stop valuing personal relationships with coworkers just because it’s not the “executive” thing to do. I won’t stop acting like the relatively cool guy that I think I am just because an alternate way of behaving might someday get me the title of Vice President.

What I WILL do, it to accept the things I like about myself and to live consistent with my values, even if I’m somewhat atypical.

You know why?

Because I have as much right to my happiness as anyone else and I’m not going to stop being me just to be someone who other people want me to be.

It is common these days to speak of community and teamwork with the phrase “It takes a village”. Perhaps surprisingly, I don’t really dispute that. We need to work together and we need to form communities because the world is an extremely complex place. I’m really good at some things and not as good as others. Yet, to be optimally successful in my endeavors I need some of each. If I contribute my strongest skills and ask to use someone else’s strongest skills in return, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts like any synergistic relationship. I recognize that I have a need of that synergy. But the next question comes when thinking about where the “strongest skills” will be developed.

For me, the answer comes in striving to be the best I can be. This does not just mean being the best “team player”. It means being the “best”, period. It all comes down to personal achievement. Not group achievement, not community achievement, not team achievement. PERSONAL achievement. Community and team are important concepts. But there is nothing wrong with individual achievement too. In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say that it is individual striving that drives a desire for individual responsibility; taking individual responsibility that contributes to individual success; and individual success that provides these “strongest skills” that one contributes to the team or community. So, without individual accomplishments, there is nothing to contribute to a team or community. I know this “bucks the trend” but, although collaboration is essential to group success, there IS an “I in team”.

Let’s get back to Nathaniel’s quotation:

“It’s not about what THEY think; it’s about what YOU know”.

Why is this so important?

To be the best that one can be, and hence the best contributor that one can be, one must realize that he or she is both capable of succeeding and worthy of it. Knowing this about yourself is what makes you willing to accept responsibility. It is what make it possible for someone to learn from mistakes instead of be deflated by them. It is what gives you confidence that you can learn the high-value skills that make you a valuable contributor. It does not mean the team is unimportant or that your bosses perception is unimportant, or that your family or other communal entity is unimportant – unquestionably they are. But the way to become the best possible contributor to those aggregated structures is to recognize that you, yourself, are important too.

So, I live by the Branden quote, just as I live by a desire to achieve unconditional integrity and self-responsibility, because the only way to be my best is to know that I have that capacity. One can not, I will not, let anyone take that knowledge away from me. Irrespective of what THEY think, so long as I know my capacity, everyone is better off. Believing in yourself is crucial to living a fulfilled life. If others believe in you as well, rock on! But it has to start with you and you have to be strong enough that no one else can screw it up for you.

On the night of November 9th/10th, the Nazi Sturmtruppen, acting on Herr Gobbels mandate that every Synagogue in Germany and Austria be burned, destroyed Jewish homes and businesses, as well as almost every synagogue in those countries. Often these“Stormtroopers” wore civilian clothes to make it look like this was just a spontaneous anti-Jewish uprising. It was really the first of many well planned and well executed acts of horror perpetuated by the National Socialist regime.

On than night, nearly 400 Jews were murdered and about 30,000 were imprisoned. By Christmas of 1938 over 2000 of  those imprisoned were dead. In an equally vicious showing of bullshit, the Nazi bastards ordered the Jews themselves to pay for the destroyed property and imposed fines on those who had been attacked.

This, my friends, was Kristallnacht. It was a sign of things to come on a scale so massive that European Judaism virtually disappeared in the ashes of six million corpses. By the end of the war in 1945, tens of thousands of human beings were being incinerated DAILY in an intricate network of murder factories. Every one of those murdered humans was an individual soul who felt individual fear, individual pain, and individual emotional anguish. Every one of those murdered humans had individual loves, individual hopes, individual dreams, and individual relationships. Everyone of those individual murders (by individual murderers) affected the families and future families of the individual victims; reaching down through the generations such that we, today, still bear the scars.

This night is “the night of broken glass”. As always, this night I write in memory of six million of my people. As always, I want to share some thoughts.

For a long time my “holocaust belief system” was based on Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem“. I used to believe in the concept of “the banality of evil”; that evil can be an artifact of a bureaucracy so massive that individuals were not necessarily accountable for their actions. I no longer believe this and I think Arendt’s premise is nonsense. In my opinion it does not matter how big a bureaucracy is; it does not matter if all one is doing is to “make the trains run on schedule”; no mater the political or environmental factors, every human being is a living, breathing, THINKING, SELF-AWARE, INDEPENDENT actor. We CHOOSE and, even when forced to choose evil over death, we must be accountable. We often have little or no influence on the systems that govern us. Still, once we have made our choice to comply with evil, we must be held to account: COMPLIANCE IS COMPLICITY. My belief in the ultimate supremacy of individual human action leaves me no choice but to place blame on every single person who “just did what they were told”, who “just followed orders”, who COMPLIED. Arendt was wrong.

While I’m pondering Arendt, I must say that I always contextualize her with Heidegger. Heidegger saddens me more deeply than almost any of the Nazis. There were lots of evil people in Germany during the Shoah. There were lots of people who did what they were told. But Heidegger! Heidegger, the genius who wrote “Being and Time” was so far the intellectual superior of almost everyone else, that he had no business utterly forsaking his intellect and his profoundly rational gift of reason to even join the Nazi party, let alone to be among its public spokesmen. As long as the National Socialist party existed, Heidegger paid his annual membership dues. Never, even after the war, did he forsake the party. He complied with the political norms and, in doing so, forsook his human reason. As far as we know, only humans are self-aware, rational animals. To be a genius and to forsake reason entirely is to be inhuman. I must set aside everything I learned from “Being and Time” because I must set aside Heidegger’s humanity. As for Hannah Arendt, I suppose having sexual relations with Heidegger is its own sort of bestiality. That said, she and I do have one thing in common: I too enjoy thinking “screw Heidegger”.

And speaking of German Intellectuals, who can forget the theologians. I did not know this until I recently read Suzannah Heschel’s latest book, “The Aryan Jesus“, but Germany actually had an institute for the eradication of Judaism from the New Testament. There were “intellectual” papers written to deny the Jewish Heritage of Jesus. There were more than one edition of the New Testament that actually removed any positive references to Judaism and the lineage of Jesus but left in all the negative references . I’d find it funny that one could edit the New Testament to remove the entire premise for Jesus being the Messiah from the book about Jesus being the Messiah, if it weren’t that the purpose of doing so was to make a religion of “love” into a justification for mass murder. It seems that even the highest of academic traditions can be bastardized by politics and transformed into a tool of terror.

So, on this night of broken glass I want you to consider a couple things.

First, always stand against hatred, inequality, sexism, racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance. Those thoughts and actions ARE evil. Doing nothing is complicity and as an individual, rational actor in the world, YOU ARE accountable.

Second, always question. Genius can be as evil – or more so – than stupidity.

Third, judge for yourself. The high priests of academia have as many ulterior motives as anyone else. “Rational” argumentation can be used for good or evil. You have individual reason and the ability to make your own decisions.

So, tonight, in memory of Kristallnacht, I pray for a world of tolerance, accountability, individual decision-making, and free rational thought. Baruch Hashem.