1 Individualism took a hit in Texas this past week. Alongside the punishing circumstances of power outages and bursting water pipes was the realization that disregard for the common good eventually hurts everyone. Even those who thought of themselves as rugged or self-sufficient were brought to their knees—a distressing posture when your power is out and your knees are deep in freezing water.
Eventually, we face 2 wretchedness when any among us decide that we’re better than the rest of us—supreme in our imagined self-reliance and focused only on our own best interests. When “me first” replaces “we together,” even the rugged individualists face miserable outcomes that can last for years.
In this case, the ripples of self-idolatry—“I’ll regulate myself without your interference”—will extend to the rest of us: Insurance costs higher, energy rates ballooning, resources siphoned off, care-giving stretched beyond its limits.
It would be easy to excoriate the politicians and power producers in Texas for their misguided approach to serving voters and customers. Still, deep-down, we may be able to understand the reluctance of Texas leaders a generation ago not to winterize power production and distribution systems.
The lessons of this past week extend further. In these difficult times, go-it-alone mindsets are tempting. Our isolation can dull us to the presence and value of others. Our fears—sickness, economic ruin, cognitive decline—can propel us towards over-active self-protection. Our own small arrogances—“I’m better than you; I deserve what I get”—present themselves as reasons to forget about our responsibilities for each other. We may become the wretches.
I pray that the 3 good people of Texas are granted relief from all the troubling distresses they are facing now. And I hope the rest of us can be helpful to them.
1 Individualism is really nothing more than garden-variety self-centeredness dressed up in sociological jargon. Christian theology gets a little more insistent about this way of thinking and acting, painting it with the ugly colors of self-idolatry.
2 From the Old English wrecca, stranger, exile, related to wrecan, to drive out or punish.
3 The godliness that lives in Texans has also shown itself many times during recent days. (“Mattress Mack” is a good example: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/18/us/mattress-mack-shelter-houston.html .) Stories like his show how other-minded people care for each other in hard times. Always good to remember!