When I was a kid -- which wasn't that long ago, given that I just turned 30 in January -- I recall hearing a popular phrase on the playground: "Mind your own business." MYOB reared its head whenever somebody threatened to rat out a fellow student for anything from harmless roughhousing to juvenile delinquency. The phrase is sometimes attributed to the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, a rough translation of which states: " ... make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
Unfortunately, the phrase "mind your own business" has lost all meaning. After all, you don't get to mind your own business in America today. If you're a religious business owner, the government can force you to serve a same-sex wedding and cover your employees' abortion-inclusive health care plan. If you're a landowner, the government can simply seize your property and hand it over to another private party in order to increase tax revenue. If you're an entrepreneur, the thicket of government intervention weighing you down, from minimum wage to tax regulation, stifles innovation and stymies creativity.
Today, Americans are only told to mind our own business when we're not, in fact, engaging in business. Concerned about the societal fallout from sexual promiscuity? Mind your own business. Worried about the rise of single motherhood? Mind your own business. Upset about an epidemic of young people seemingly willing to trade the responsibilities of adulthood for an infantilized freedom? Mind your own business.
Societal problems are now personal; personal problems are now societal.
That shift in the American mindset reflects a deeper shift in the nature of our relationship with government and each other. This week, Michelle Obama released a video explaining to us that we needed to sign up for Obamacare now -- for the sake of our mothers. "We nag you because we love you," the First Lady said.
But, of course, she doesn't love us. She doesn't even know us. Nonetheless, too many Americans have been convinced that individuals exercising personal choice are a societal problem; government, our Great Mother, can care for us personally. If we believe, as Hillary Clinton does, that it takes a village, then those who insist on personal privacy and freedom are obstacles to happiness and accomplishment. Only the collective is good. Any manifestation of individuality that poses a threat to that collective is by necessity evil.
We no longer live in a nation in which we can mind our own business. My business is your business, and vice versa -- unless, that is, we are engaged in activity that tears down family, church and community. If I'm a business owner rejecting service to a same-sex wedding, I have no right to invoke "mind your own business." Conversely, if I'm a member of a same-sex couple, I can invoke "mind your own business" all day long -- even if I'm making my business your business by engaging your services.
The obliteration of the distinction between the personal and the collective marks the end of American rights. But if you're worried about it, you should probably mind your own business.