American Focus: the Individual

To my way of thinking, the United States of America is the greatest country that has ever existed. But it’s not without its flaws. Many of the nation’s shortcomings are rooted in a cultural foundation—our emphasis on individualism as opposed to encouraging members of our society to work together for the common good.

That leads to our admiration for “rugged Individualism,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “the practice or advocacy of individualism in social and economic relations emphasizing personal liberty and independence, self-reliance, resourcefulness, self-direction of the individual and free competition in enterprise.”

As a result, the emphasis, in American life, is on competition, not cooperation. We reward the winners and penalize the losers. Instead of working together to find solutions to our nation’s problems, we vie with one another and seek credit and recognition for our ability to dominate rather than our willingness to join forces.

I learned during my years in Vietnam the extraordinary value of teamwork. I learned to be a leader rather than a manager, not controlling my subordinates but doing all I could to encourage them to be the best they could be and to work together for the greater good of all. The least successful commanders were those who acted like rugged individuals, seeking to excel rather than to work for the welfare of the subordinates. Being a leader, I learned, required the humility to put followers first and oneself last.

As a country, we need leaders. That means highlighting cooperation and teamwork and deemphasizing rugged individualism.

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