Who Built This?

19 Jul

Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. I first heard this statement when I was in law school from my real property professor. For those who know the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, there may be a wide array of things that make this statement problematic. For me, however, it sounds like a statement of celebrating the times of yore, while just being completely impossible.

Clearly whoever said this was either absent of logic, attempting to make a point through the use of an obvious auxesis, or just made a simple conjunction of sentences by eliminating too many words and neglected to proofread after awaking. At any rate, a simple Google search tells me that this is perhaps the most quoted student research paper error of the last fifteen years.

It is impossible to synthesize the thoughts of the 3.2 million pages that came up on my Google search, but I believe it is fair to say that at least some of those are looking to make a point. The clear point I observe is that no one accomplishes anything on his own. There is no individual who can accomplish anything without some contribution by others.

Simply put, no person survives beyond the age of a month or two without a protector (usually a parent). Virtually no one is able to accomplish something deemed good without the input of an educator, teacher, or mentor. Largely because I subscribe to the Heidelberg Catechism definition of good, I believe that real good can only be attained by and through a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Terminology aside, useful things, even if pushed by one man are not the results of that one man alone, but rather the result of many people pouring into that man’s life. This is why, as parents, we often swell with pride when our children accomplish something others notice—we see the work that we put in with them to help precipitate that behavior. We know our role was not merely one of watching, though as our children get older and come about wisdom from their own study, our connection to their accomplishment seems less to us, and we move from a pride to a grizzled respect.

Nevertheless, the point remains the same. Even if we accomplish great things when most of our influential mentors accomplish either negative things or very little, it was learning from them, both in the literal process and the rote disciplines that assisted us. This point is perhaps morphed into a phrase that became quite common when Hillary Clinton was First Lady and she wrote a book entitled, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.

While I dare not summarize 352 pages of work in a single sentence, I would assert that most people’s reaction to the title has less to do with the content of the pages therewith than with the political persuasion they happen to possess. Some of the most isolationist parents who happen to be politically liberal have raved about the book in my presence, while the most covenant community minded conservatives will rip apart the book. Not having the read the book, I am comfortable saying that children (and adults) who have the most different voices to learn from are often benefitted, while those who have the fewest number of inputs are often stunted.

These aren’t new ideas. Chris Young sings a country song which touts this philosophy, and seldom is country music on the cutting edge of philosophical breakthroughs. “What brings me to the point where I am discussing something so mundane and acceptable,” you might ask. Well, earlier this week, President Obama made a speech where in the context of making this argument he swam deeper to say, “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Now, we live in a sound bite era, and whoever wrote Obama’s speech certainly should have realized that this statement I am putting in the middle is a potential rallying cry by small business owners. I’m certainly not here to defend Obama’s point, as I think it is relatively obvious that Lincoln can’t be born into a log cabin he built with his own hands and we cannot achieve something without someone teaching us the basic skills. Therefore, I think to take away credit from the person who built the business on his own after taking these inputs, especially when you are asking those same people to give up something (greater taxation), is just plain bad strategy. Further, I think it is kind of shady to say that all of those inputs are the results of government.

Nevertheless, I wonder what it is within us that just flatly gets upset when someone wants to take away credit. Are we really that conceited that we get offended when someone wants to take away the credit? I am a small business owner. I enjoy many aspects of that position, and if those privileges start to go away, I’m sure that I will be immensely frustrated by that change.

Notwithstanding that feeling, I feel like myself (and several others like me) are too quick to want to toot our own horn. We are too quick to take pride in the things we have done, when I know that in my life, there are so many people who assisted me to get where I am that if I were put elsewhere, I would surely not be where I am. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!”

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One Response to “Who Built This?”

  1. askthephatman November 14, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    A “good” sequel can be found here.

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