A lot of distorted nonsense got flung around last week after President Obama spoke those words in a speech about social responsibility. People heard what they wanted to hear and twisted it to say that all of the great business people of our nation’s history weren’t responsible for their works after all … which is complete and utter hogwash.
Science fiction writer John Scalzi posted a good self reflection of it yesterday:
A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It
Nobody lives in a vacuum in the United States of America. Whether you’re rich or poor, republican or democrat, smart or dumb – everyone relies on other parts of society for something, and you’re a fool if for the last week you’ve been trumpeting anything otherwise. Our President’s words weren’t intended to take anything away from people who’ve been successful in their lives, but simply to remind us of the importance to pay those same securities forward that we’ve all enjoyed ourselves living together as a civilized nation.
Let’s take another look at the entire quote in its full context…
“You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
These words were intended to implore select individuals to shed aside the poisonous arrogance that makes them believe in their hearts that all of their vast wealth and success is a result of them and them alone, because it’s that kind of greed and blatant disregard for the society they live in that’s casting a divide throughout America right now. Unless you built your fortunes a thousand miles away from society out in the woods somewhere, random people helped you to get where you are today, be it through social services, taxpayer subsidies, police and fire protection, a public education, or even just a helping hand to get across the street when you were five.
Give thanks and a helping hand to the next guy on down the line – that’s really the takeaway from all of this. And if you don’t feel that you owe a debt of gratitude to anyone else for everything around you, then maybe you need to stop and take another look.