In his Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul recognizes an important paradox. On the one hand, he says: “Bear one another’s burdens.” On the other hand: “All must carry their own loads.”
There are some problems and challenges in life that we’ll never be able to manage or to endure unless other people help us; but, there really other things we have to do for ourselves. Essayist Garret Keizer once said that Paul’s “dual admonition to bear one another's burdens and to bear one's own burden” points toward both “self-reliance and social responsibility,” what Keizer called “the Republican heart and the Democratic heart in their purest forms.” Getting the balance between them right is, as he said, “the crux of any sustainable community. Neither value makes sense without the other, nor can it be fulfilled without the other. The trick is to get them to kiss. The trick is to create a society in which the privilege of disposable income is not contingent on the existence of disposable people.” This, he said, is “the primary task of any mature politics.” It depends, to a great extent, on leaders who will actually listen to “the people they supposedly represent.” [in Harper's Magazine, Notebook (April 2009)]
Discerning which burdens people can carry for themselves and which they need our help in carrying depends on our knowing them well enough to see them compassionately and realistically. Leaders should know about the real-world challenges the owners and managers of companies, corporations and family firms face: global competition, rising healthcare costs, finding skilled employees, skittish and demanding investors, and a complex regulatory environment.