The Myth of the “Self-Made Man”

By all accounts, Manchester Boddy was quite the character.

Boddy lived from 1891-1967. He spent the bulk of his vocational career as the publisher of the L.A. Daily News. As one of the city’s cultural elite, Boddy hob-nobbed with stars, lived lavishly and dabbled in politics. Personally, I appreciate one of Boddy’s other interests, horticulture. Growing up just a few miles from his estate-turned-botanical gardens, I benefited more than once from both his appreciation for nature’s beauty, as well as the power of his bank account, which allowed him to create such a breath-taking location.

Manchester Boddy. Entrepeneur. Publisher. Senate candidate. Agronomist. Oh, and add one other title:

Boddy

Because, as it turns out, Boddy’s story is also a rags-to-riches one, and, as the museum panel will tell you, that makes him a “self-made man.”

As you might imagine, my first issue with the descriptor is that it’s gender exclusive. What about the “self-made woman?!?” As if only men can, through sheer will and determination, end up “self-made.” It’s high time we eliminate such biased labels from our cultural lexicon.

That said, let’s take it a few steps further and debunk the myth of the “self-made man” with these truths:

1. God is the one who does the making in the first place. As Psalm 139:14 points out, you and I are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Friends, we’re no accidents!

2. God creates us, and then uses community and circumstances to shape us. What I mean is that we all receive helping hands along the way to get where we are. Take Boddy for example. Someone nursed him back to health after he was gassed in World War 1. Others saw potential in the young encyclopedia salesperson and promoted him to manager. Still others paved the way for Boddy to use his talents to turn around a struggling newspaper. My point here is that while Boddy was no doubt gifted, he was anything but “self-made.”

3. God creates and shapes, so God should get the glory. According to the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), you and I are called to do well with what we are given, but, all throughout the glory goes to the Lord. God gets the credit for who are become, since it’s God who does the work.

So, don’t believe the hype. Whether we’re talking about Manchester Boddy, Rob Dixon or anyone else–male or female–we’re all “God-made people.”

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