Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Is there Really No “I” in Teamwork?

Though not interested in football, this article caught my attention; or rather, was brought to my attention through a private Objectivist activist e-mail community. The title of the article, Even now, there is no ‘I' in hall-bound Clendon Thomas, cuts right to the heart of what’s wrong with the world – the devaluation of individual ability, and of the individual as such.

Jenni Carlson writes about a luncheon held in honor of a great All-American football star, Clendon Thomas, who had been chosen for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. The 400-person luncheon was insisted upon by his friends, and held, over the objections of Thomson, whose character, it is said, is marked by “His deep humility”.

Even standing at the podium at a luncheon honoring him was tough for Thomas.

“This is an awkward moment for me,” he admitted. “I will go to New York in December (for the induction ceremony), and I will receive a token of appreciation for something that we accomplished together.”

He glanced around the room.

“We know there's no I on a football team.”

How many times have we heard athletes talk like that? Hundreds? Thousands? But really, how often have we believed that the words were genuine?

Thomas was.

In response, I left this commentary:

As a plumber working in the construction field, I can tell you that no building can ever be completed unless every individual - from the architect to the engineer to the material supplier to the construction manager to the supervisor to the general foreman to the foreman to the tradesman to anyone else involved - does his job, with all that that implies. Building a building, like any other cooperative human undertaking, is a team effort based upon the effort of a whole series of “I”s, each of whom acquired his knowledge and skills by personal choice and effort, and is driven by his own self-motivation, self-discipline, and self-interest.

Without the “I”, there can be no teamwork. This is a metaphysical fact, because the individual is the basic unit of humanity. The degradation of the individual leads to the false dichotomy between individualism and teamwork, which leads to the sad spectacle of a great achiever deflating his own achievement. Rather, Thomas has every right to feel and exhibit pride that he played his particular position well enough to earn his place in the Hall of Fame, even as he pays due recognition to his teammates.

In any event, congrats to Mr. Thomas.

There is an inherent contradiction in any manifestation of collectivism - which is based on the ethics of altruism; the doctrine that holds that the measure of the moral worth of any person consists solely in putting others above self. Clendon Thomas’ “humility” highlights it. If the primary source of Thomas’ achievement lies with his teammates, then it follows that the primary source of each of their achievements lies not in their individual abilities but in other teammates. If what’s true for Thomas is true for each member of the team, then what is the source of the team’s national titles of 1955 and 1956? This circular logic leads to the bizarre conclusion that great teams require no individual excellence; that the team’s metaphysically autonomous human components are of no consequence; that nobody on the team can claim the right to say, “I achieved this”. A team achievement without individual achievement is a contradiction in terms.

Without the “I”, there can be no teamwork, because there could be no team.

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