When Two Opposing Philosophies Are Both Right
How Do We Reconcile Individual Accountability with Community Building?
Yesterday, I shared a conversation with Cecile Blilious, the head of impact and sustainability at the giant Israeli venture fund Pitango.
She has spent her career working to support other people. Yet, she describes her superpower as being the grit required to succeed without help and support. She coached people to build grit by recognizing that “no one is coming.” Success comes from within.
Over the years, I’ve seen this apparent conflict between collectivism and personal responsibility in other contexts.
One example is The Other Side Academy in Salt Lake City, which works to help people near rock bottom, recovering addicts who are in trouble with the law. The program provides intense personal support for two years.
The program teaches participants the absolute requirement to take personal responsibility for their actions and outcomes.
Think about that tremendous dichotomy. People enveloped in a cocoon of support are taught to take 100 percent personal responsibility.
It is almost absurd. Purists for self-reliance might argue that the program itself violates the principles it teaches by providing the support troubled people need to learn the self-discipline required for success.
Advocates for the power of interdependence, our inherent reliance upon others in our families, communities, countries and planet, could well be offended by the idea of teaching people such a strong form of independence and personal accountability.
Similarly, many people who have risen to prominence as scientists, entrepreneurs and even politicians seem quick to take credit for their success, sometimes failing to acknowledge evident support from others, including the government.
Elon Musk has been fabulously successful with Tesla. He may have had a more positive impact on the planet by some measures than any other human being. I don’t remember him crediting the government grants and programs enabling revenue from carbon credits or tax incentives that have helped hundreds of thousands of people buy Tesla autos and solar panels.
A quick reality check leads me to conclude that tax incentives alone could not have created Tesla. Similarly, there is evidence that Tesla could not have succeeded without government support.
What does this mean? It means Cecile, Elon and The Other Side Academy are all right.
Policy and programs should be designed to support individuals, entrepreneurs and even companies to help them all succeed. At the same time, we must remember that, ultimately, people, entrepreneurs and companies must take responsibility for their own success.
You don’t have to imagine what happens in countries that fail to educate their people. We can observe the poverty. We can also see the tremendous difficulty in fixing that. A sound education system created in a low-income country could easily take 60 years to have full effect, when the first five-year-old to benefit from the complete process arrives at retirement prosperous.
People of good character will continue to disagree over how much government should do to support individuals, entrepreneurs and companies. It is hard to argue, however, that governments should do nothing. Similarly, it can’t credibly be argued that governments should do everything.
Individuals need to see opportunities for self-improvement and should be encouraged and supported in their journeys to achieve that. Some will create world-changing technologies and companies; others will spend a career teaching six-year-olds how to spell, add, subtract, sing and draw.
In my opinion, our friends in Scandinavia seem to have found the sweet spot. There, the government does much more than here in the U.S. to provide health care, education and social services for the aged and struggling. With per capita GDP aligned with ours, they have preserved opportunities for individual achievement and success, creating thriving economies.
As we continue our global discussions about community building and personal responsibility, I hope we can agree that governments owe their citizens support that provides equal opportunity for all to achieve whatever they define personally as success.
We should also remember our personal responsibility. No one is responsible for taking care of me. I alone am accountable for my choices and decisions.
Personally, I hope to make a difference in the world for others, not just myself.