“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is a phrase that’s been around a long time. My take on the phrase is that you’ve got to succeed and make something of yourself by your own effort.
Of course it really doesn’t work, to lift yourself off the ground by reaching down and pulling on the top of your boots or shoes. So the phrase, though it sounds good, really isn’t true in a literal sense.
Even in a metaphorical sense the principle to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is a fallacy. We all need the help of others. No one’s truly a self-made man or a self-made woman. The old African proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child” is true not only of children but adults too! To succeed at life is a group effort. In this way we are no different than the ant or the bee; both are social insects, dependent on the colony and hive. There’s no such thing as an ant or a bee thriving on its own.
We all stand on the shoulders of others, and others must stand on our shoulders. It’s shoulders all the way up and all the way down! We’re to look beyond ourself, look around us, doing a horizontal scan of 360 and see how we are all to be there for each other.
But we humans are not only designed for horizontal relationships with each other but also for a vertical relationship with God. Much of what we need to succeed in life is to come from above.
The self-help industry of writers and speakers would have us believe we can unleash the greatness within us in order to be great and do great things. When I look within myself I don’t see everything as being good, not at all. When I watch children play in a nursery, a day care, or on the playground I don’t see perfection, I see very flawed little people who don’t always play fair, and they grow up to be very flawed people, like you and me! English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge stated that “the depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality, but at the same time most intellectually resisted fact.”
Looking within ourselves to become self-actualized is doomed to failure. The answer is to look above us and receive the love, forgiveness, and ever present help and guidance of the God who made us, sustains us, and redeems us!
No, we can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and that’s okay. There’s a far better way to become more of who we were meant to be. Far better than looking within ourselves we’re to reach out and help each other and reach up for the help of God!
“I lift up eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2