In a recent post (Lost and Found, 4/27/2022), I reflected on Jesus’ curious call to discipleship, in which my losing my life (living self-sacrificially) results in saving it and, contrarily, my seeking to save my life (that is, for myself) bears the cost of losing it.
In the latter case, saving my life, I recalled the notion of being “self-made” – generally, I wrote, “a complimentary description of a person whose success derived from individual ability and effort without external aid and often having overcome worldly disadvantages.”
In the latter case of “overcom(ing) worldly disadvantages,” I awoke this morning thinking of Frederick Douglass; who rose from the shackles of slavery to be a renowned writer and orator, abolitionist, social reformer, and statesman. One of his most sought-after speeches was “Self-Made Men” who, Douglass declared, “owe little or nothing to birth, relationship, friendly surroundings; to wealth inherited or to early approved means of education; who are what they are, without the aid of any of the favoring conditions by which other men usually rise in the world and achieve great results.”
The world of Douglass’ time (and before and after!) was not characterized by equality of advantage or ability for and of all. Thus, his message of self-determination is appealing. In its essence, it also squares with that human ages-old, nearly universal quest for personal autonomy and, nationally, our American romanticism of “rugged individualism.”
Nevertheless, I don’t believe in the theory, much less the reality of being and becoming self-made. Long I have maintained that no one arrives at a place of good without countless helping hearts and hands, many, if not most, unknown and unseen. For notwithstanding the insights of ancestry.com, 23andme, or any other genetic testing service, none of us ever can know fully the life circumstances – the abilities and incapacities, the opportunities and disadvantages, the triumphs and trials – of every last soul in our lineage and all of those who influenced them.
Fact is (or so I think), none of us – whether theist, agnostic, or atheist – is self-made. We, each and all, are formed and are being formed by and with others.
In a word, now, speaking for myself (indeed, my self), I always am other-made. I am and become fully my individual self in the context of my communities, my relationships with others.
© 2022 PRA
#selfdetermination #ruggedindividualism #personalautonomy #relationships #selfmadeversusothermade
 Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16.24-25)
 Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)
 Douglass first delivered “Self-Made Men” in 1859, and, thereafter, many times. The speech, nearly 2500 words, is richly nuanced and worthy of reading and reflection.
 Although another matter, for another time, the same is true, I believe, for those arriving at places of ill. They have been hurt by countless hearts and hands.