America’s obsession with stoic individualism is harming us all.  A recent article by Nick Norman on LinkedIn, entitled, “The one business question that saved my mental health,” got me to thinking more on this topic.   (   Nick talks about tough times and how hard it was to ask for help to find a job. 

In the U.S. (and probably other places), there is the idea that it is more virtuous to accomplish everything on our own and without complaining.  And people who do accomplish great things do have help along the way, but their stories become legends that are separated from reality. 

The fact is that every human needs help to get through life.  For starters, we would die without someone to care for us as children.  And people like Jeff Bezos, they are seen as building an empire on their own.  Of course, he did not—he got help in the form of investors and hired employees.  We are all reliant on other people.  This is how society functions. 

But as a society, there is cognitive dissonance.  Human are primates—social creatures by nature.  It is our instinct to be social, and some are more social than others.  We desire closeness with others, yet due to this cultural obsession with stoic individualism, we often feel like we are weak or like we are a failure when we need to ask for help. 

In addition, it can cause an attitude of callousness when people are in need.  When we help each other, it forms bonds between us.  When others see our vulnerabilities and still accept us rather than shame us, we feel a sense of belonging.  We know this to be true, but the beliefs that have been culturally imposed on us create inner conflict, as well as conflict with others.

It takes teams of people to accomplish great things today.  And collaboration can be very challenging for a number of reasons.  There is no reason to view collaborative efforts as less than.  When people can work together, limits of what can be achieved have boundaries that go much farther than any one person is capable of.  We should view helping others and collaboration as natural.  Part of what it means to be human is caring for one another.

The people who are harmed the most by this obsession with stoic individualism are people with disabilities.  Not only do people with disabilities have to contend with finding ways to adapt to a world that wasn’t designed for them, but then they must deal with this cultural attitude. 

An attitude that says people who need help are inferior or less than. An attitude that no one gives much thought to, as it has been passed on from one generation to the next. An ugly attitude that is simply not true. When we are children, before we develop the ability of critical thinking, we absorb so many of these cultural beliefs without question.  By the time we can question them, they are so ingrained that most of us just believe that this is the way things are.

But this isn’t just the way things are. 

We have a choice whether we want to abide by this belief that doesn’t serve any of us.  A belief that ignores the reality that all people need help to vary degrees. A belief that only serves to tear us all down when we are most in need.  A belief that makes people with disabilities and everyone else feel bad about themselves—for things that we can’t always control.  A belief that only exists in our minds. 

As such, that means that we have a choice.  That means that we can choose to change this belief for the betterment of us all. We can choose to accept the truth that we all need help sometimes– and that’s okay.

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