“You do you.”
Perhaps there’s no phrase that captures our current cultural moment better. Back in 2015, Colson Whitehead of the New York Times Magazine, lamented this phrase, arguing that it “perfectly captures our narcissistic culture.”
Indeed, it is hard to disagree. “You do you” embodies our culture’s commitment to personal fulfillment, self-actualization, and the dismissal of any truth claims outside of the self. It means we get to create our own realities, our own right and wrong, and, perhaps most importantly, our own meaning.
And if we are the creators of our own little worlds, then we are also our own little gods. And no one gets to tell a god what to do. We decide for ourselves.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the selfie is now our world’s favorite art form. The thing to be celebrated, after all, is us.
So—and now we come to it—how does a “You do you” culture handle something like the coronavirus?
Prior generations, no doubt, would’ve turned to science as the great solution. Armed with ever more impressive technological advancements, we were told our potential for solving the world’s problems was essentially limitless.
In the case of the coronavirus, however, the god of science does not seem so omnipotent after all. Maybe there will be a vaccine at some point in the future, but for now we are on our own.
So, what then can be done, at least on a human level, to stop the virus? Well, here’s where we come to a rich—and perhaps tragic— irony in the current situation: we can only stop the virus by doing what is best for others not just for ourselves.
The virus will be curbed when people embody a spirit of self-sacrifice. A posture of self-denial. We must limit our travel, limit our social contact, even limit our “fun” so that the virus won’t spread.
And that requires a worldview that gives us a reason to deny ourselves. A reason to think of others. In other words, we need a worldview that is about more than us.
In short, “You do you” won’t work.
Indeed, one might argue that our cultural decline over the last fifty plus years has made us exceptionally vulnerable to something like the coronavirus. The problem isn’t that we’re unprepared scientifically. The problem is that we’re unprepared morally.
A quick reflection of how some people are behaving in this tragedy bears this out:
- Man flies from New York to Florida knowing he had symptoms of the coronavirus and while awaiting the results. He found out the test was positive after boarding. Later Jet Blue banned him from all future flights.
- Man who works for Dartmouth medical center had symptoms and was told to self-quarantine, but instead decided to go to a party with Dartmouth students. Others were later infected.
- Man in Missouri was told to quarantine with symptoms, but instead opted to take his daughter to their school dance.
But perhaps most disturbingly is the recent behavior of some college students over Spring Break. Knowing that young people are least affected by the virus, some students are deciding to party on, defying the orders to say away from large crowds.
With a remarkable level of unawareness and disregard for the good of others, one spring-breaker said, “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying . . . whatever happens, happens.”
In other words, “I’m just going to do me, and you do you.”
Here’s the point: nothing tests the validity of a worldview like tragedy and suffering. And the coronavirus, as awful and terrible as it is, has done at least one good thing, namely it has exposed our culture’s commitment to relativism for what it really is. An utterly unworkable and unsustainable worldview.
Even our founding fathers understood that our country could only survive if it had a moral core centered on God. As John Adams famously observed, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Now that we have a country that has largely abandoned “moral and religious” foundation of self-sacrifice and service to others, the inadequacy of our system is laid bare.
But there is always hope. Revival rarely comes in times of plenty. Instead, it often comes in times of want. It’s when all our earthly comforts and securities are taken away that we’re willing to turn again—with renewed vigor and commitment—to the good news of the gospel which is, at its heart, about a man who laid down his life for the good of others.
If the first Adam embodied the “You do you” culture, the second Adam embodies the “You serve others” culture. After all, it was Jesus who said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
The “you do you” worldview may at first appear to be life-giving, when in actuality it is life-taking. In contrast, the Christian worldview may at first appear to be life-taking, when in actuality it is life-giving.
Ironically, then, it’s in the midst of a tragedy like the coronavirus when Jesus’ words ring most true: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:25).
Michael Garland says
Excellent. Thank you!
Yes, the era of “selfie-righteousness”…
Very well done! I read on TGC about the candy aisles in stores being full and the meat and sustenance aisles being empty. In times of trial and painful things, folks want “meat” and not fluff. May we all be drawn closer to and focused on Him!
Even OT Israel thought it could do the ‘you do you’ and ended up in deep woe as it adulterated Gods wisdom and care. In as much as we look to science, art, pleasure, fake religion, super healthy bodies, economics or whatever. These are all secondary things that may be of some good in and of themselves but in reality require a fix from a primary and truthful source…And that can only be Christ Jesus.
Romell Gravelle says
Awesome article. Pray to be ome more Christ like. Jrsus save out country.
In City-Journal, Spring 2019, Andrew Klavan’s essay “Can We Believe” is germane. I recommend it. It explores the blind-leading-the-blind, fruitless shoring up of the super structure of western christian civilization but absent the vitality of faith, thus a pure exercise in weather vane culture by elite cultural practitioners who really only partially comprehend their own culture.
Peter Goeman says
Excellent observations! Thank you.
Anthony Flood says
A good example of this is Justice Anthony Kennedy’s defense of the “right” of abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”
Gabby Process says
Yes I’m so happy that some of the abortion mills had to shut down because of covid 19!
If it saved a few lives it was worth it!
Jorge Aleman says
As always, I great blessing to read you blog. Dr. Krueger, could you let me translate it to Spanish and share with our community here?
Michael Kruger says
Yes, but please add a link at the end to the original article on my website. Thanks.
Johnny Maust says
I would be very interested in reading your translation!
Carolyn Reeves says
Thanks for sharing. One of the best descriptions of what a post modern culture looks like. The light and beauty of the Gospel shines brightly in contrast.
Mr. Nate says
Amen. Thought I‘s share this also, as it’s part of what we are working through as a church and training resource: “Me Monster: The selfish kid who learns to love https://amzn.to/3d4WS0w
Anthony Troutman says
Great words. The words that ring in my mind are Love Your neighbor as yourself. The royal law covers ALL.
Exactly ! May God use this moment of history to bring a revival and to make his Church stronger ! Great observations. God bless you
This attitude went into hyperphase during the 60s which lead the Beatles to write this song in 1969. I Me Mine
Douglas Diggs says
Thank you for your thoughtful and timely article. Very well written and an accurate assessment of the social dilemma we face today as a nation. May God continue to bless the works of your hand and I pray that all who are called by His name would heed 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Matt. 16:25
Lori Wilkerson says
Excellent article- thank you!
God works in Mysterious ways and He has a very rare way of humbling us and drawing us back to Himself perhaps this is the time and season…
Judy Nicholson says
excellent and so needed now. thanks for the article and all the responses
Great words by a great believer! Thanks so much!! I will share this with all my family & friends! God bless you & yours.
Berti Loken says
Such a timely and timeless article. It is so true, and if more of us ministered as Jesus Christ did in always thinking of others before ourselves Covid19 would be at a standstill.
This is a fabulous article. Thank you for your honest, Gospel driven perspective.
Kathy Hoeck says
Thank you for this post. The video of teens partying is difficult to watch. Their “I” come first attitude is as selfish as it gets. So sad. Praying for wisdom and direction … for doctors and our leaders. Forgive us Lord Jesus for arrogance and selfishness. Please have mercy and please heal our land.
Thank you for your wise words. As my family and I live in NYC, I have a visceral appreciation for those who are placing the collective welfare above their individual preferences. That said, I wish more Christian leaders would — along with exhorting believers toward life-giving practices — hold those in power, particularly President Trump, accountable for their implicit (and explicit) approval of this life-taking self-centeredness.
Not only was Trump’s inaction when the crisis first emerged (and presently, as he withholds ventilators from my city) an example of self-serving negligence, but his rhetoric minimizing the severity of the pandemic and/or promoting often xenophobic scapegoating seems to be the embodiment of the relativism and narcissism that you describe.* And now, for the love of mammon, he’s proposing ending one of the measures you endorsed here.**
How much can we blame teen-aged partygoers for their reckless selfishness when the 73 year-old man leading this nation (with the support of many American Christians) has modeled that for them?
When times like this, prayer is the best thing to do. Courage and faith to Jesus are what we need right now.
Richard Montoya says
Now let go out and be the servant of all and put our Savior on display.
Sharolyn Jane Everett says
“The best way to help yourself, is to help someone else.” Thank you for reminding us of Jesus’ teachings. Others, Lord yes Others- Let this my motto be.