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Helplessness Blues

March 15, 2014

This is indeed something that has changed in my worldview over the last few years: the idea that I’m special and need to do something amazing to be worth anything.  I’m not sure when the shift in thinking started, but it was crystallized and articulated for the first time when I heard the song sharing the title of this blog post: Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes.  I don’t remember when it was I first listened to it, but I do know it took a couple listens for it to finally resonate.


Album art for Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues

According to iTunes I added it in July of 2012, before I first arrived in Hawaii, so I’d been in the Navy for a little over half a year by that point.  Also according to iTunes I’ve played it 22 times – that doesn’t count any mix CDs I may have included it on.

It’s the first two verses that really grab me:

I was raised up believing

I was somehow unique

Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes

Unique in each way you can see

And now after some thinkin’

I’d say I’d rather be

A functioning cog in some great machinery

Serving something beyond me

At first glance it seems kind of antithetical to the American Way, doesn’t it?  Aren’t we supposed to carve our own way, forge our own path and whatnot?  There’s a big emphasis on independence coming from the ‘Merica PR department.  Of course, I think the original intent wasn’t to emphasize and separate individuals, though I do recall learning about the proponents of individualism being a big part of the curriculum in U.S. History back in my high school days; rather, wasn’t the original intent simply to declare independence from England, to simply become an autonomous nation?

Oh, and civil rights and such; the Bill of Rights (here’s my William of Lefts!) – we all need to demand and assert our rights as humans and especially as American citizens!  Well…United States of America citizens!  After all, American citizens could also mean citizens of Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and all because it could mean North America, Central America or South America (though I am well aware of the common use of language referring to citizens of our country as simply Americans).  Vespucci’d be proud, no?

Anyway, something I’ve experienced and have observed in myriad folks in my generation and even a few prior to mine is that with all that freedom and whatnot – “You can be whatever you want!” “Even President?” “No, Suzy, don’t be silly.” – there’s hardly, if any, guidance in what to do, what to be.  “But you can do anything!”

Sure, but…what’s the point?  To what end am I doing anything?  Why do I do what I do?

Animals have it easy: beavers build dams, dogs bark and pee on fire hydrants, foxes say stuff.

What does the human do?  I doubt hamsters have such existential crises….

Well, as vets of this blog know, I grew up in the Judeo-Christian Church (Yay, Jesus!).  One of the main doctrines taught in there is that each Christian is a part of a whole – we’re compared to bricks in a temple, parts of a body, branches grafted into a tree.  We’re never meant to be alone.

I see that echoed out as a universal law in humanity – we naturally gravitate to groups, groups that share common interests.  It’s good to be in community!  Ideas are shared, resources pass from one to another; and it’s here where the uniqueness does come out!

In the animal kingdom the common interest is survival.  A pod of whales hangs out together to protect the calves and each other; monkeys share info on where the good bananas are hanging; cats…chase yarn (?) and stuff.  Anyway, with humans it’s not just about survival – we’re not grouping up to protect ourselves from any kind of physical threat – well…at least not in places where violence is going on all the time like in parts of the Middle East or where freedom of expression is against the law, punishable by death depending on what mood the arresting official is in like in North Korea.  Hm…

At humanity’s best, we’re able to group up for purposes beyond mere survival instincts and needs.  And yet, that need for community is an advanced expression of the survival instinct.  When you’re hanging with other folks who like the same stuff you do you can tell them about what it was like for you the first time you drove down the highway at 88 miles per hour or dish on the plot details from the latest episode of Sherlock (yes, we missed you; you know who you are….).  If there’s no one to share anything with then what’s the point in getting excited about anything?  Yay!  I’m 33 today!  And no one is around to care about it….

Being in community helps us spur and encourage each other on to greater things.  It also helps us be accountable to others – what fun is that?  Well, none really, certainly not in the moment of accountability, but it does serve a good purpose.  Like if you’re trying to quit alcoholism or a porn addiction – any addiction!  Peers help us take a stand against internal and external foes – addictions and actual threats of violence – because we know we’re not alone.

People affirm life; we affirm in each other that we are alive and that we do indeed matter.  That’s why there’s so many of us!

And I’m not advocating finding a group of like-minded individuals and sticking with them and only them; that’s how Crusades and Nazis happen.  It is good to have a core group of such folks, but also recognize that, as a society, we are indeed parts of a bigger whole.  Like in biology, each person is a cell and a bunch of cells make a tissue; a bunch of tissue makes organs and organs, with the right organization, make a body!  A culture, if you will!  Can I get a “eureka” from any of my scientist homies?

So, while it is good to be self-aware and to know one’s self, it’s better – and, I daresay, the natural progression – to do so in the context of being part of something bigger – the freakin’ human race.

= = = = = = = = =

And catch new episodes of Community Thursdays on NBC!

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