Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Becoming a Rugged Individualist...

Sarah Silverman has this great joke using the word scary. She literally just repeats the word scary over and over again in a disafected accent. There's something about it that makes me smile; this makes some sense, about 50% of my life revolves around cribbing Sarah Silverman jokes. In the best of times this leads to hilarity, and in the worst of times it leads to complete and utter embarrassment.

Take, for example, the time my marketing class was talking about the need to rebrand American Airlines. Old Jono thought he'd whip out Sarah's classic 9/11 joke: Ya know Sarah Sivlerman says that American Airlines should just re-brand itself with a more positive spin, "First Through the Towers".

I finished with a flourish and smirk - in my head I expected the class to burst out into laughter allowing me to reap the reward of comedy - instead, however, my smirk was met with defeaning silence interupted only by a gasp from the back of the room.

The silence was so great, it was almost as if I'd just admitted to my marketing class that I fuck goats on the weekend (which I don't).

Such joke #fail was indicative of my tenure at the Rotman School of Management. Sometimes I think that Rotman stole my youth; other times I'm concerned that it stole my joie de vivre; other times I'm just convinced Rotman spat on its hand and had its way with me just like Ennis Del Mar had his way with Jack Swift (that movie still holds up by the by - I recommend a re-watch and RIP Heath).

However the one thing I truly lost at Rotman, besides a computer cord and this really pretty cashmere scarf I bought in London (to whomever stole it I quote noted thespian Antoine Dodson: you are so dumb, you are really dumb, for real; you don't have to come and confess, we're looking for you, we gonna find you), was my ability to champion in group consensus.

What do I mean exactly? Well before Rotman I jokingly told a friend that if I ever got drafted into the army I'd be voted as most likely to organize a kumbaya circle in order to champion an Oprah-esque Remembering Your Spirit moment.

A year later? Fuck your feelings - lets talk about moi for a moment. I'm not sure where my love of other people's feelings has gone over the last two years - it may have been those lectures on the evil of group think - but I think Rotman has turned me into a rugged individualist.

I was recently at a strategic planning session for a non-profit I volunteer with. The organization, a group for up-and-coming professionals, is currently refining its strategic vision and mission statement and those of us in attendance were to construct a new vision statement.

As we broke off into small groups it became clear that there were two broad groups of people - in one corner you had those who felt the organization's mission was simply about city-building (the admirable ones), and in the other corner were the individualists who admitted that they were involved with said non-profit because they sought out personal growth would in turn allow them to support city-building initiatives.

There's a small but important distinction between these two positions. And aI left the meeting I surprised myself by being more supportive of the latter idea; isn't everyone furthering their own agenda all the time?

I'm pretty sure my change of heart isn't just a b-school thing. It may be a generational/state of life. As a friend of mine, who recently bought a house, admitted - the time was nigh to maximize his own personal earnings. If there was anytime to be now for one and one for now... it was in your late twenties and early thirties.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Individualism - especially of the rugged kind - is a defining myth of the American twentieth century. The myth goes that rugged individualists - from Daniel Boone to Henry Ford to Teddy Roosevelt - tamed the American frontier (of both the literal and figurative type) and then watched the country prosper because of it. It was in 1928 when Herbert Hoover coined the term, Rugged Individualist, proclaiming: "The American system.... It is founded upon the conception that only through ordered liberty, freedom and equal opportunity to the individual will his initiative and enterprise spur on the march of progress."

In a recent article in Time Magazine on the state of rugged individualism Roger Rosenblatt argues that the driving mythology of the Rugged Individualist is not necessarily a bad thing because the concept is not simple narcisism, as "The 'rugged' saves 'rugged individualism' from shabbiness by implying not merely solitary but courageous action." Rosenblatt further argues that as much as the concept of rugged individualism has shapped modern American culture, personal rugged individualism has been tempered by a collective sense of responsibility.

Therein, I think, lies the important point in all of this business - tis fine to segue into that of a rugged individualist (it also sounds really butch if you're gay) but never forget the bow)ties that bind us. That may be why the rugged individualist, such as myself, enjoys a good bow tie; as the NY Times noted: "A list of bow tie devotees reads like a Who's Who of rugged individualists."

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