From Duty to Self Actualization

One of the fascinating changes in our culture in the last fifty years or so, have been the shift from a sense of cultural or communal duty to one of self actualization. In the past the individual was asked to sacrifice their individuality for a greater cause, today we are asked to serve greater causes as an avenue to self actualization. For an example of how things have changed, compare these two military


recruitment advertisements. Notice in this first one that the emphasis is on duty, the young man is encouraged to join up by an authority figure presumably his mother. His relaxed stance with his hands in his pocket is almost discouraged as his mother moves him from his casual stance by placing her hand on his shoulders and point him towards service and action. The message is that this is probably not something that you want to do, but your society needs you to do this. This advertisment is based on the individual submitting their personal agendas and happiness for a greater social goal.

Now watch this video. It is the latest recruitment TV spot from the Royal Australian Navy. Notice the P.O.V shot emphasising the individuals subjective viewpoint, notice the pace, notice the injection of the ‘fun’ activities. It seems more like a booze cruise that happens to be on a destroyer rather than military service. What is being sold here is a slight sense of duty coupled with a bevvy of ‘experiences’ and ‘excitement’ that implicitly promises the individual a kind of self actualization.

Putting aside any ethical debates about war and military recruitment, these advertisements illustrate to us the momentous changes in how the individual in our culture today understands their sense of self, their life project and their larger duties and responsibilities. Almost everything today in our culture is viewed through a prism of self actualization, the pursuit of personal happiness trumps the submission of self for the greater good almost every time. Even activities and causes that have traditionally been seen to be linked to the concept of the greater self, such as national service, community participation, ministry, mission, social justice and volunteerism,  become subverted or co-opted  as avenues to self actualization. This is a key, key concept that leaders and ministers today must understand as we engage in leading and discipling.


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