The problem of individualism

· A reflection on the Parable of the Sower ·

Date
Jul, 12, 2020

So I’ve been contemplating the message(s) in the Parable of the Sower, in which a gardener tosses around a bunch of seeds with extreme abandon. Whether these seeds (the Word of God, love, peace, wisdom, enlightenment, nirvana) take root and grow depends on where they land: in the path, on rocky soil, amongst thorny bushes, or on good ground.

This exuberant gardener is tossing their seeds everywhere! What if my plot isn’t ready?

I don’t know about you but I’ve got all the problematic soil. Sure, there is some good dirt in me, but I’m also trampled, full of rocks, and covered in thorns. So how do I fluff my dirt, and remove the rocks and weeds? Maybe I need to meditate more. Practice mindfulness. Read more books. Sure, that’s a start. But maybe I also need to look more broadly at the entire field.

What are our societal paths, rocks, and thorns?

I think in the United States, one problematic soil is our emphasis on individuality. Sure, seeing everyone as a unique person is good. But the more we cultivate our own individuality, the more we lose touch with the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Individualism also blinds us to the role of social location in our lives. Factors like race, gender, and social class shape us in ways we don’t even realize. They put us on a path.

Take race, for example. White people across the country are suddenly on this mass quest to be woke. It’s both amazing and weird. We’re trying to open our eyes and see, but it’s challenging work. So many of us grew up being taught that it was impolite to talk about race. That it was, in fact, racist to do so.

But if we don’t have eyes to see the influence of social location – to see the paths we all are on – we will remain stuck on those trampled paths. The seeds thrown our way will land on that hard soil and be stolen away by birds before they are able to take root.

Maybe our job isn’t to wander off the path and find good soil. Maybe our job is to cultivate the ground we are on. We didn’t get to choose our place in the garden, but we can work to improve our own plots.

And when that exuberant gardener comes by with their seeds, maybe we will be ready.

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