Have you noticed that some weeks seem to have a theme? For days at a time you'll find one idea - or "notion" - surfacing over and over in your life.
Last week - as I tuned in to see the movie "Dances With Wolves" walk off with all the Oscars, as I read a book about Mark Twain and took my son for a weird haircut, I kept getting one thought: Americans really have a heady sense of individualism.We love to see one person take on the system and win. Any system. We root for Ollie North to kick Congress around, cheer Kevin Costner as he takes on the insensitive U.S. Cavalry. We whoop it up when someone licks the IRS.
Alexis de Tocqueville once said he was amazed America had a democracy at all; everyone here seemed so completely absorbed in their own personalities.
If the Japanese join together to gain success - like millions of egg yolks being blended - America is a successful popcorn popper full of corn; all of us bounce in every direction imaginable.
That attitude probably does make us more self-centered than people in other cultures. We have a distaste for political solutions, for instance, because individuals get lost in political solutions. We don't always like to sacrifice our personalities on the sports field to help the team and we often let stragglers in society fall by the wayside instead of finding ways to help them along.
Still, I've also been seeing a positive side to our individualistic nature.
We not only see ourselves as unique, but we tend to see other people that way, too.
And I'm convinced the only way to ever have any impact in life is to deal with people on a one-on-one to basis - as unique individuals.
I used to think it was stupid for Superman - with all his incredible powers - to rush around picking up bank robbers by the scruff of the neck and helping ladies across streets.
Then, as a young Christian, I realized Jesus did things the same way. He could have lined up all the lepers in Jerusalem and healed them with one wave of his hand. But he didn't. He went person to person to person.
Gandhi, one of the great leaders of all time, worked in the political arena. He mobilized the masses. Today, Gandhi's influence in India - and the world - is greatly diminished.
Mother Teresa, however, works like Superman. She works with one person at a time, and her influence is bound to grow and be felt for generations.
If I were the type of person who wrote in parables, I'd probably compare people to drops of rain. We could all join together and form one rush of water that blasts through humanity's obstacles. That would be a political approach. The problem is a lot of damage is also done. Control and direction get lost.
Or, we could fall "individually" like drops of rain on individual seeds of corn until there's plenty of grain to feed the world.
That would be the Mother Teresa approach, the spiritual approach.
I also think it's the American approach. We do "dance with wolves" in American, but we only dance with one at a time.