"If I am not for myself, who is for me, but if I am only for my own self, what am I, and if not now, when?" -- Hillel
On May 5, President Barak Obama made the following statement at commencement ceremonies at Ohio State University:
"We, the people, chose to do these things together — because we know this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition."It was a shocking statement. For one who is known for his ability with words he clearly confused the words individual ambition with greed. Worse than that, he equated ambition with greed.
As we have already noted everything that is good must balance two extremes of evil. Individual ambition reflects the good of Cosmic Truth. The extremes, which turn that good into evil, are greed and self-sacrifice.
It was individual ambition that lifted this country from a group of weak colonies to the peaks of national wealth and power. The railroad, the assembly line, the telegraph, the telephone, the airplane, the computer and all of their benefits to our society are the products of ambition. Those without ambition could not have performed these modern miracles. It was when this nation perverted ambition into the extreme of greed, that we started its descent.
Adam Smith, moral philosopher and the father of modern economics wrote:
"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."
These simple truths tell us that the only just nation is one that makes it possible for each of its citizens to pursue their unencumbered, just ambitions. This is freedom.
President Obama loves sports. Sadly, he apparently fails to see that athletics provides an allegorical model for the virtue of individual ambition. Each member of a football team is driven by the ambition to acquire a Super Bowl ring and all the benefits that come with it. Every player struggles to be the very best he can be. He knows that, although he has the talent to achieve his goal, he cannot do it alone. He must contribute one hundred percent of his talents to the team. In turn, every other player must contribute one hundred percent of their talents.
He also knows that the players provide different value to the team. The quarterback is critical to moving the ball to a touchdown. They also know that each of the others bring varying benefits to the team. Together they achieve the win. They accept the fact that their particular benefits will be proportional to the value that each brings to the team. Each member seeks to achieve his benefits. He knows those benefits can only be won by the unstinting effort and cooperation of every member of the team. The drive to compete inspires cooperation.
We can extend this model to the owners, the coaches and the water boy. All of them are ambitious for the Super Bowl victory. Each contributes their best to the effort. In addition, each should benefit in proportion to their contribution. Anyone of them has the opportunity to increase their benefits by increasing their value. This is the path to self-esteem and empowerment.
Some might argue that there are those who are too disabled to achieve. I respectfully disagree. I know severely disabled people who have brought enormous benefit to those around them. Despite their status, they have achieved that which nobody can give them: self-esteem. They know that they have value.
Ambition is the balance between greed and self-sacrifice. That which sustains balance is, by its nature, good. It follows that the society that nurtures individual ambition in all of its members is a just society.
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