Slick with sweat and gritty with dirt, I guzzled the ice water from my cooler. It was a welcome relief from a long day working in the orchard. As my work compadres and I leaned against our trucks and tractors in exhaustion, I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction.
I have a deep appreciation for hard work. And I’ve found the sweet spot of work is the combination of the use of my gifts in collaboration with others. It was in the farms and orchards of my childhood that I learned the fundamental lesson that partnerships build capacity.
Years later when I was in graduate school, I was assigned the book Habits of the Heart – Individualism and Commitment in American Life by Robert Bellah. The premise of the book suggests that American culture was shifting from being community-centric to individual-centric. Bellah was not just reporting; he was sounding the alarm that this shift would have a negative impact on our culture. In the decades since I first read this book, individualism over community has grown exponentially. It has seeped into every corner of American culture and is the dominant frame in politics, industry, education, social networks, even faith.
The pandemic has revealed much about our culture. There are some who have embraced its impact from an individualist perspective. Others have leaned into it much more holistically, appreciating that a collective response will have a positive impact on a greater number of people. Many of us have been confronted with this life lesson when crises of our own making, or a natural disaster like Ida comes our way. Partnership builds capacity.
On this Labor Day weekend I am grateful for work. The opportunity to use my gifts in diverse and varied contexts has given me a deep sense of satisfaction. But my greatest sense of fulfillment has come from collaborating with others to “accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine.” Because in the end, “though many, we are one body.”