Dear North Phoenix Prep Families,
You are not alone. And you must keep a firm hold on that reality.
The human suffering that has resulted from joblessness, illness, and death from COVID-19 is something we should never minimize or push to the side. Our lesser but still significant workaday sufferings cannot be ignored either. But in the midst of this strange moment of "social distancing" I believe our school ironically has an opportunity to rediscover the meaning of community. Through a kind of
, we are feeling the importance of one another's presence--precisely because of our distance.
That reawakened desire for friendship, society, and community stands in stark contrast with the dominant worldview in the broader culture. Matthew Crawford describes this prevailing
well when he explores the idea of autonomy:
The idea of autonomy denies that we are born into a world that existed prior to us. It posits an essential aloneness; an autonomous being is free in the sense that a being severed from all others is free. To regard oneself in this way is to betray the natural debts we owe to the world, and commit the moral error of ingratitude. For in fact we are basically dependent beings: one upon another, and each on a world that is not of our making. (
Shop Class as Soulcraft,
Autonomy has been the primary way that we 21st century Americans understand ourselves in relation to society. To the extent that we considered social bonds at all, we tended to sacrifice our sense of camaraderie on the altar of an atomistic view of freedom. We tended to believe that we were free because nothing stood in our way. We believed that we were free because we could do whatever we pleased--and because we depended on nobody but ourselves. We took the genoise cake of community and overwhelmed it with the buttercream frosting of individuality. (Can you tell that I've been watching
The Great British Baking Show
But in the wake of school closures, I am hopeful that we might emerge with a deeper appreciation for community. That would mean, interestingly enough, the restoration of a
view of freedom. On a classical view, the primary cultural reality is not individual autonomy but what Cicero called
(which is perhaps best translated as "fellowship"). Freedom is thus not merely the absence of external restraints. It is not merely the ability to do whatever we please. Rather, it is
the capacity to recognize and fulfill our duties to one another
. On the classical view, we humbly keep our own neediness, our own dependence upon one another, in the forefront of our minds. We discover that people in the community are counting on us, just as we are counting on them. In this way, a classical kind of freedom knits communities together rather than breaking them apart. By grounding freedom in duty, we can see our own moral responsibilities more clearly.
So none of us are alone. In fact, this crisis is showing us our mutual dependence more than ever. And what if we all pulled for each other? What if we regarded everyone in our community as a friend? What if we made a special effort to be “socially present” even in a time of social distance? Well that would be truly liberating.
With Devotion and Good Cheer,