American culture is a lot about individualism. From our country’s founding documents protecting personal liberty and property above all else, to our literary heroes (lonely cowboys, heroic soldiers, brilliant inventors, and even business tycoons [Steve Jobs]), to our favorite cinematic protagonists facing the bad-guys alone (James Bond, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker), we love celebrating the rights, achievement, and spirit of singular individuals. Oh, and the more curmudgeonly, iconoclastic, and independent, the better.
It even shows up on the NFL field of play – an offensive coordinator can call the perfect play, the front line can block the pass rush, a quarterback can throw the perfect pass, but only One, the wide receiver, is permitted to dance in the end-zone. I recall more of Michael Jordan’s iconic game-winners, than I do the first 47 minutes of team play that enabled him (or anyone) to win it.
Ironically, while the Protection of Individual Rights is more often attributed to one political party, it’s the other party who more often protects and advances those rights (Brown v Board of Education, Civil Rights Bill, Roe v Wade, Same-Sex Marriage, etc). Queue Stephen Colbert. But, I digress.
So I totally understand when I hear that personal health is the primary responsibility of the individual. Certainly, making better food choices, eating less quantity, exercising more, not using tobacco products are things each individual should do, and may do. But is there a role for the community to make those behaviors more can do?
For example, do we as communities provide enough well-kept green-space, enough public safety (pistol-carrying runners notwithstanding), enough sidewalks, public bike-rentals and planned development? When will we halt the subsidization of high-fructose corn syrup in favor of a level playing field for fruits and vegetables? When will we demand from restaurants they include calories and fat content on each menu (not necessarily mandate it, rather demand it, as consumers)? Oh, and ketchup was never a vegetable.
Yes, all of us, including me, must behave more responsibly as an individual when it comes to our personal health (eat less, move more, get our vaccines and cancer screening exams). AND at the same time, we collectively can empower and enable individuals to behave more responsibly by providing more of a healthful infrastructure in our communities. Join Park Pride, Trees Atlanta, Georgia Conservancy, Piedmont Park Conservancy, Atlanta Beltline, or any other noble organization trying to advance individual freedoms by providing and protecting collective-use environmental infrastructure.