The art of Individualism begs us to become more self-conscious and confident, even as we face apparent ostracism and derision from our communities, including our friends and family. True, we need an open exchange of ideas between ourselves and others, or else the security of our personal space will be threatened, maybe not by some distant enemy but by our own neighbors.
The difficulty is that we may not feel comfortable with our own identities, wrapped up as we are in a social game resembling Nature’s “predator versus prey,” only without the sacred balance offered by this primal instinct. I would say, despite any surveys I might see from any poll, most people fear ridicule more than physical harm, the tease of a bully more than the punch of the abuser.
As much as our culture has praised Individualism with one hand, the other, let’s call it Reality, is always open to deliver a stinging slap.
It’s easy to fit ourselves into what we are in relation to the things we possess or don’t possess, the entertainment that thrills us and that bores us, and even to the environment within which we live or wish to flee from. So, in an era of Individualism, we construct ourselves into what our senses input into our brains, focusing on our connections and how these networks define us, in the time and place where and when we are … but who are we to begin with, to have such a miraculous ability to make these connections?
Who are we, at the innermost core, that collects and contains this contextual input, and why does no individual interact, react, and counteract in the same way as others in similar or even nearly identical contexts?
While there may be no universal answer we can over-generalize to fit all human beings (or all beings in general), there is an over-simplified question which is easy to overlook because it’s so ambiguous, with heavy emphasis on personal perspective, that we with our burgeoning global awareness and inundation of data could find too complicated to work towards answering, especially when our strong emphasis on fact versus fiction tends to drive us towards knowledge and distinguishing truth, instead of seeking awareness and understanding to suit our basic needs:
“Who am I?”
And like all questions, for me the best answers always lay, bound and imprisoned, within the question itself. The knot that ties our hands behind our backs is the puzzle of contemporary reliance on things outside of us to define who we are, and the energy required to break those bonds—or to find the freedom implicit in the vulnerability of being bound—is housed in the central battery of our intensely unique souls. I mentioned we are inundated with data, with information.
I would add that our psychological climate today has never been more saturated by identity crises, dissatisfaction, imbalance, disharmony, and at least for my own perspective, Apathy, Petulance, Isolation, and Contempt.
I can’t answer why we’re not all happy. I can only offer the perspective of someone who is alive in this moment in this place after having a specific set of experiences. This over-simplified question, “Who am I?” is an answer unto itself, because in asking it we can discover not only these distressing emotions listed above, but also our specific discomforts with feeling them.
In discomfort, we have opportunity for growth, a moment of pivotal import as we face the predatory threats to our core identity and must therefore develop the prey instincts necessary to defend and cope with these threats.
I have absolutely no qualms with thinking of myself as prey. It’s where my empathy for others arise, and I consider this to be one of my key strengths and most useful adaptations. It teaches self-reliance even as it offers primal value in forging beneficial communal relationships.
If this sounds too cold and scientific, I’ll put it to pretty poetics: my love for others and myself springs the flowers of true wealth.
Whatever type of metaphor suits you, whatever resonates deep to your bones and charges your battery, there is no better way to both ask and answer questions of identity than to explore and then express your unique perspective. I’ve come to deeply believe the most efficient way to do this is to gain a literacy of the self, the ability to read who you are, maybe at first from the outside-in, but ultimately from the inside-out.
It can take a lot of effort, but it might be worth it to alter our perspective enough to realize that even when we are engaging literacy by reading outside elements—such as books or pieces of artwork or body language or other environmental effects—we are also reading ourselves into these contexts, drawing evidence from them in whatever resonates with our imaginations.
We identify with our relationship to other things and people, but our identity is not the relationship, instead the true and honest core of individuality that evolves throughout our lives, the answer within the question easily complicated by anxiety at the flood of sensory input raining down upon us.
We could go Biblical just for fun, and claim that what we each need is our own personal Ark to carry us over the water lest we drown without an anchor or a beacon of hope to follow.
I suggest an alternative to giving up your true individuality as a sacrifice for the skewed Individualism of the “Information Age,” and that is the choice of creativity. It is a choice of some medium, or variety of mediums, through which asking the question “Who am I?” can be channeled into the creation of the messages resonating from your soul, not just a reflection of what your soul consumes. It’s the creation of anchors and beacons and whatnot to somehow recognize you are not isolated from yourself, and in this recognition you can feel more acutely a deep resonance with companions, further diminishing any lingering fears of isolation.
I’ve made my choice many times literally through writing, but literacy takes many forms, especially in regard to our individual perspectives. Learn to read yourself, investigate your questions, and discover for yourself the thriving spirit in your heart no predator can kill.