No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
– John Donne (1572-1631), English poet and cleric
The way of fortune is like the Milky Way in the sky; which is a number of small stars, not seen asunder, but giving light together: so it is a number of little and scarce discerned virtues, or rather faculties and customs, that make men fortunate.
– Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher
We are all in this together.
What an affirmative and beneficial summation of our role in life. What a positive and constructive concept for understanding the purpose of our brief moment of time on Earth, for performing our part in the pageant of mankind.
Combined with the writer Kurt Vonnegut’s simple humanistic dictum – There’s only one rule I know of… God damn it, you’ve got to be kind! – this “all of us together” precept is one that I wish would take root in my community and my country over the course of this New Year. For far too many new years in this century we have increasingly become a society that is more divisive, isolated, self-serving, combative, confrontational, and appallingly greedy.
Although I am a cynic at heart and skeptical of appeals to man’s better nature, there is a flicker of optimism deep inside me that believes Americans and their core values are better than those malicious attitudes we have been so shamefully exhibiting over the course of these most recent decades of our history. We are better than we have been behaving.
I hope this year there will be a resurgence of the principles of fairness, justice, compassion – of sharing the country’s good fortune – that are the tenets of what was called “The American Way” in our civics lessons in grade school in a more egalitarian era fifty years ago. I’m not so blindly optimistic as to expect a sea-change in outlook and behavior in a single year, however. “We are all in this together” flies in the face of the new civic ethic, which seems to be “every man for himself, and let the devil take the hindmost.”
We cling to the myths of rugged individualism and the self-made man, wanting to believe for egotistical pride, that we are the sole architects of our successes, so I suppose I should not be astounded to hear a coffee shop political orator declare, “Nobody ever did anything to help me!”
Really? Family support, public education, law enforcement, highway systems, communication networks, business start-up loans, health care, and the benefits of dozens of other public and private services and agencies – none of those did anything for you? And you never had a mentor or advisor to guide you in the right direction and help you through hard times?
Good fortune does not come at our personal bidding, nor does it come unaided. Not for a single one of us. We have all had help. And we all have a responsibility to repay that help by helping others.
“We are all in this together” and “you’ve got to be kind” will become ever more crucial to the survival of our nation, and in fact to the survival of civilization itself, as we go through the next fifty years of ever-greater calamities caused by climate change and depletion of the Earth’s natural resources by six billion human beings. The outcome of meeting these pending disasters with an “every man for himself” doctrine would be horrific beyond imaging.
All change must begin within oneself, it is said, so the most important resolution I am making for this New Year is to address my own sins of being divisive, selfish, combative, and greedy. It is clear that no leader in government or private enterprise is going to hand us – or even point us toward – any solutions to the problems of a disintegrating society, political system, ecosystem, and economy. So I need to be a greater participant in the small ways I can help, for example by supporting local food banks, clothing drives, public libraries, senior citizen centers, childcare centers, and other organizations and services that epitomize the “all in this together” values and spirit that I want to see in my community.
Good fortune is a fickle thing, and often wayward, but those of us who have received its grace should in turn have the grace to share our blessings. I hope you make that one of your New Year’s resolutions, too.
More stories about hunting and life in the North Country are published in my two collections of essays, Crazy Old Coot and Old Coots Never Forget, and my novel,Hunting Birds. All are available in Kindle and paperback editions at Amazon.com.