The goal of my work is to help human beings flourish. I want individuals to achieve their highest and best selves, but I also want humanity to unite under one common understanding. That understanding is that we are all individuals. Life is not a spectrum, rather it is a confluence of indivisible units. Every single human being is a unique individual. We are not small parts of larger groups. We are whole entities in and of ourselves. While we may be part of larger groups, whether defined by gender, race, geography, or sports team fandom, those affiliations are only a small part of our identity. Who we are is an entirely subjective experience, and it is only able to be understood completely by ourselves. The only thing that truly unites us all is the paradox that we have nothing in common except that we have nothing in common. We are all individuals struggling to define and comprehend the enormity of our own individuality.
How do you define yourself? Are you a morning person? A night person? A cat or dog person? Do you do yoga, or lift weights? Do you eat meat, or are you a vegan? Do you like to read, watch movies, or are you a TV junkie? Do you watch videos on the internet? What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? These are all very small aspects of how we characterize ourselves in order that we are better able to relate to other people. However, even in these relatively inane categories, the deeper meaning of our preference for chocolate ice cream over vanilla is really only understood by ourselves. The reason for this is that no one else has our tongue, its taste buds, or our brain. No other human being is capable of experiencing our subjective experience of the enjoyment that comes from that sweet chocolaty goodness. And, the only thing we have in common with other chocoholics is that while we all experience joy from chocolate ice cream, our experience of that joy is entirely our own.
Do you identify as part of a gender or racial group? We are all part of one whether we choose to align politically with those that share our designation and coalesce as a political movement based upon choices we were unable to make. The problem is, no matter how you identify, or with whom you align yourself, no other person can know what it is like to be you. Other individuals can empathize with experiences you may have gone through, and our emotions are similar. We all feel pain when injured, but only we can feel the pain of our own injuries and what that means to us.
We have the capacity to unite together in groups to advocate for our race, our gender, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the abused, and the huddled masses yearning to be free. We also have the capacity to unite for higher political ideals such as freedom, liberty, and justice for all. We can fight for equality of opportunity, or equality of outcome. We can go to war for capitalism or socialism, communism, or liberty. We can even riot together because our favorite sports team just won or lost the championship. No matter how we choose to unite ourselves in any given moment, the only thing that truly unites us is our individuality. No two of us are alike, and on that we must all agree.
Being able to express our own individuality is the highest purpose of life. I would argue it is the only purpose. We must understand and be able to express who we are as unique individuals, or we will never be happy. Being able to love, experience joy or sadness, feel responsibility or shame, and express pride or disappointment, are all aspects of our own individuality, and while those might be experiences worth living for, they are merely expressions of our own uniqueness as individuals. We may have a commonality with all other individuals in our ability to experience all of these feelings and aspects of life, however, what they mean to us and how we experience them is an entirely subjective experience all our own.
We are all unique and complex individuals, united only in our shared quest for individuality. So, the next time someone tries to characterize you as part of one group or another, using three or fewer adjectives to describe you, know that they are trying to put you in a box so they can easily dismiss you or control you. Anyone that does not recognize you as a unique individual wants to use you for their own ends. Anyone that does not want to let you flourish so that you may express fully your own individuality, is threatened by it.
A world full of complex and vibrant individuals, all expressing themselves peacefully as they see fit, is a complicated world to try to rule. This is why those that seek to rule you want to keep you small and collectivized into easily defined groups. People are easier to rule and dispose of when they are all just parts of one group. However, when you recognize that they are all unique individuals, they become very real, and very hard to justify their extermination. It was easy for the Nazis to kill the Jews, but Lenny your next door neighbor, he’s real to you, so killing him is hard. The bourgeois under Marxism, the Kulaks under Stalinism, and the poor under Mao all had the same fate. Those same broad collective groupings are appearing again today.
We are all categorized as white, black, brown, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, cis, trans, straight, queer, etc. etc. These categorizations seek to do one thing; strip us of our individuality. Without our individuality, we are not real, individual people, with real, meaningful lives. We are just part of the other. No matter how we identify, we are always the other to someone, and therefore, eligible for hate. Instead of identifying ourselves through part of a group, why don’t we quest to identify ourselves as unique individuals? If we united under the shared realization that we are all unique individuals in search of our own individuality, we might just find common ground upon which all of us can stand.