Updated: Oct 5, 2022
Future historians will look back at our time as the “me first” era, when individuality was paramount with each person their own sovereign nation. We have reached a pinnacle of personal independence where radical liberals and conservatives alike rally around the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag and disparage government oversite. And as wonderful as this new-found freedom feels, it has disabled us from acting cohesively as a human community at a time when our collective survival depends on us doing just that.
My mother lamented the loss of social responsibility that came with the “Me Generation” of the ‘60s. As a young person following on the heels of the hippies, I loved it. No more rules, no boundaries, no conforming to traditional social standards. I couldn’t see any downside to unlimited personal freedom. As I age, however, I am coming to understand how isolated and fearful of each other we have become as we lost our sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves.
If we are each truly alone here – an island unto ourselves responsible for our own individual survival – then this rugged individual cowboy culture that we are embracing makes sense. We all feel the urge at times to scream “don’t tell me what to do, leave me alone, and mind your own business.”
I understand the appeal. My mother lived at a time when social conformity was the norm and people who strayed were shamed and outcast. Differences were threatening and personal feelings and needs were ignored for the sake of uniformity. Thankfully, we have shed those constrictions, and are now more willing to recognize that each one of us is unique, with our own way of being in the world.
With more diversity, creativity, acceptance, and tolerance for each other, humanity is better for this change. Practicing democracy stretches all of us to be more inclusive, until we can embrace the entire human family as our own. This is how we grow past the limits of our ego, evolve into a higher state of consciousness, and learn to live in a state of love instead of fear.
The Limits of Personal Freedom
The way forward is difficult, however. Democracy enables each of us to do whatever we want as long as it does not interfere with anyone else doing whatever they want. And here is where it gets tricky. When exactly does my behavior impact you? And, what do we do about that?
The primary responsibility of governments and laws is to enable each of us to pursue happiness in our own way, while protecting us from harming each other, and the planet. None of us likes to be restricted by government authority. Yet, if no one makes rules and enforces them, human society falls apart and we live in a state of chaos and insecurity dominated by fear and violence.
The global pandemic, like the climate crisis, presents an unprecedented situation where every person on earth is now impacting everyone else. What you and I do in response to these crises affects each other. These two issues illustrate that whether we like it or not, our fate is tied to the fate of everyone else on earth. And this is a game changer.
The Wild West attitude of everyone for themselves clearly isn’t going to work to get us out of these impossible situations. A global pandemic requires us to limit our personal freedom for the well-being of the whole. And if the earth becomes uninhabitable due to severe climate change, we all perish along with life on earth as we know it.
Our Need for Independence and Belonging
The key to resolving these seemingly impossible dilemmas is recognizing that as long as we are under the influence of our ego, we will only be able to see things from our individual perspective. We will only be able to identify as self-sustaining individuals and won’t be able to recognize that we are part of a whole, conscious life force – an infinite field of energy that encompasses everyone and everything.
Under the trance of ego, we can try to get whatever we want, but we can never be happy. This is because our security, contentment, and peace of mind come from belonging to a greater whole as much as from being a unique individual. We require both independence and community to be truly content.
Solitary confinement is the thing we fear most. Our need for connection, companionship, and belonging is obvious. The astonishing popularity of social media tells us how much we depend on each other. The idea that we could be happy living in our own private universe is simply a lie that our ego presents in order to maintain its control over us.
Acting in Unison for Our Own Survival
Our fervor for personal freedom without responsibility is coming to a head with climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. These global crises require us to act cohesively as one human family in order to resolve them. These two events are demonstrating how we are entirely dependent on each other for our survival. They are teaching us about the limits of our ego-programmed instincts. If we continue to put ourselves first, ahead of concern for the whole, we will all perish.
A pandemic ends when enough people have acquired immunity that the virus can no longer find hosts to spread itself. Before modern medicine, new virus and bacteria had their way with us. Massive numbers of people died in pandemics, and there was little that we could do to prevent it because we didn’t understand what was actually causing the disease. In those days natural selection and survival of the fittest prevailed, and the survivors were the ones fit enough to develop immunity naturally.
Modern western science has developed vaccines, inspired by ancient traditional medicine practices, that give everyone a high degree of immunity and enable us to end a pandemic without losing great numbers of people. Those whose responsibility it was to respond to the pandemic chose to make a new kind of vaccine and get them to as many people as possible in order to develop herd immunity more quickly. It seemed to be the path with the least suffering and loss.
Here is where it gets sticky for those of us who value our independence and have reasons to mistrust government and medical authorities. We don’t want someone telling us what we have to take into our body, and we don’t want to risk the potential danger of a new and untested vaccine.
While this perspective certainly makes sense, it has contributed to a most astonishing confluence where the far-left leaning spiritual and wellness community has merged with far-right Trump supporters to rebel against government enforced mask or vaccine mandates. People from both sides of the political spectrum are railing against this as government overreach on par with Hitler’s concentration camps.
This is a signal of how deeply imbedded we all are in the deception of the ego. Our programmed sense of self does not allow us to see beyond our personal needs and cannot recognize when our individual survival depends on the survival of the whole.
Our perspective is distorted so grossly by our ego’s insistence on personal choice that we can’t tell the difference between a democratic government trying to contain a pandemic by mandating social behavior and vaccinations in certain circumstances, and a violent authoritarian regime carrying out genocide to gain power and control and further white supremacy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how deeply imbedded we are in the deceit of the ego. It’s cult of individuality has overtaken us so completely that we have lost our capacity to act cohesively, even if our own survival depends on it. Any suggestion of giving up personal comfort or preferences to serve the good of the whole seems to trigger an avalanche of hostility and defensiveness.
Our Self-Destructive Ego Programming
The real threat to our freedom and contentment is our allegiance to our ego. It’s programming convinces us that we are separate, isolated individuals each responsible for our own survival. And it tricks us into always seeing threats to our well-being in some other people who seem to want to control us for their own benefit. As long as we remain under the spell of our ego, we will continue to blame and demonize each other, never seeing that the real source of our discontent is embedded in the unconscious programming of our own mind.
The lesson for us to learn here is just how self-destructive our ego programming is. We are fragmenting into isolated clusters competing with each other to see who is right at a time when our survival as a species depends on our ability to collaborate and act in unison. We have given our power away to the ego and are blindly following its mandates, which only serve the proliferation of the ego itself.
To break its spell and free ourselves, we have to become aware of how the ego fractures and paralyzes us. The one thing our ego cannot survive is all of us acting collectively and focusing awareness on the ego itself. Together we are more powerful than the current coronavirus, the climate crisis, and the influence of our ego. Once we recognize our inherent connection to each other and to consciousness itself, the ego is doomed, and we are freed from its limitations.
Seen through the ego’s lens, government mandates and social restrictions aimed at containing the pandemic may tread on the sacredness of our individual freedom. However, from an expanded perspective they are a way to identify with the larger whole and outgrow our ego-centered programming. We are being challenged to see that our happiness, peace, and well-being come from being responsible for the whole as well as being responsible for ourselves.
I see the pandemic as a dress rehearsal for climate change. The consequences of fighting with each other over mask wearing, social distancing, or vaccinations are more sickness, death, and disruption to our society and economy. However, they don’t threaten the well-being of all life on earth the way that climate change does.
The Value of Healthy Leadership and Social Responsibility
Faced with a global pandemic, and the prospect of the extinction of humanity due to our own ego-centric behavior, we need to act together for our collective survival. And leadership is what enables us to move forward together.
We need effective leadership from government, science, medicine, and spiritual teachers now more than ever to enable us to learn from these crises and resolve them. Yet our allegiance to ego convinces us to shoot down anyone who tries to exercise the kind of leadership that we so desperately need right now.
I am not suggesting that we simply return to the culture of obedience and conformity of my mother’s generation, as traditional conservatives would have us do. I think we are well beyond that and have made progress in distinguishing ourselves from each other, celebrating our diversity, and empowering each individual. However, I also think that we are at the limits of personal independence and are now suffering from an epidemic of loneliness, isolation, and social paralysis.
It is time to consider what a healthy sense of social responsibility looks like. This is what the pandemic and climate crisis are teaching us. We can be responsible for ourselves and take responsibility for the whole at the same time. We can value our independence and individual expression at the same time as we value belonging to community and society. We can interrupt our ego programming and free ourselves from its spell by doing things that serve the greater good, even when we don’t see any immediate benefit to ourselves.
By giving of ourselves in small ways that don’t cause us harm, we begin to regain the joy, security, and contentment that come from being part of a larger whole. We liberate ourselves from the fear and anxiety that come with believing that we are small, fragile, isolated individuals who have to compete with each other for our personal survival.
Like democracy, this is a practice that requires thoughtful discipline and intention and rewards us with an expanded experience of ourselves which is much greater than our individual person. It moves us beyond our ego and enables us to thrive in certainty, serenity, and freedom from fear. It completes our journey here on earth and brings us back into integrity with the whole.