Of Individualism

You cannot hide from yourself, no matter how hard you try. The concept of individualism stems from individuality: You have a certain history, personality, physiology, and psychology (and probably a few other "ology"s) that are completely and utterly your own. This combination makes you a unique individual.

Once in a while, you'll find someone who looks a lot like you, or shares the same type of humor, or has the same peculiar talent, but there's no escaping the fact that all of us are individuals, even if you do your best to follow the crowd. It's that whole "no two snow flakes are alike" thing. You are also socially independent enough to think, feel, and act however you see fit, whether you really want to or not.

== The Past ==

Experience is one of the biggest contributors to individualism, and comes from a variety of different occurrences in your everyday life: Learning right from wrong, getting along with siblings, making friends and enemies, learning which foods you don't like, study habits, peer pressure, accepting or rejecting advice, relationships, family, travel - all of these experiences coagulate over time, creating the person you are today, right now.

It doesn't stop, either, because life is constant. You may not feel different tomorrow, or next week, or next year, but you are evolving, adding more to your history. The more experiences you have, the more memories you add to your mental library.

Over time, this personal history is combined with the wisdom you've acquired on certain subjects, and this combination allows you to question why, for instance, you may have been so eager to follow the herd when you were younger. It also lets you question your own tastes, and possibly try a new flavor, visit a new destination, or attempt a new style that may take you further from the huddled masses, but will always transport you towards your own individual likes and dislikes. As we grow older, we learn more about ourselves, sometimes even without trying.

== The Body ==

Another inescapable part of our individuality is our physical being. This is less likely to have an impact, since most of us are born with the same basic bodies. Unfortunately, defects, injuries, and ailments do occur, and sometimes these circumstances are life altering, demanding that we change the way we think about, view, and live our lives. Sometimes these changes are temporary - other times, they stick around.

Having said that, there are plenty of stories about people overcoming (or doing their best to overcome) setbacks, and living relatively productive lives. To see examples of this phenomenon, look up the following names: Mattie Stepanek, Aron Ralston, and Gary Burghoff.

== The Brain ==

The brain is an amazingly complex instrument, of which it's been said that each of us only uses a small percentage. The phrase "untapped potential" comes to mind. We do know enough, however, to realize that each of us, as individuals, will interpret information differently, based on how our brain processes it.

Say you and two friends walk into an art shop and start looking at the paintings. You come upon a detailed oil painting of a ship on the ocean. One friend might view the billowing sails and the cresting waves, imagining the salty air and the wind whipping around them, and wonder what it was like to travel on one of those vessels. Another friend might marvel at the meticulous detail of the picture itself, and simply enjoy how the paint reflects the shop lights, almost bringing a 3D effect to the piece. You, on the other hand, might just get seasick.

Yes, all human brains have the same basic functions, but what helps make us individuals is how our brains interpret what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and emotionally feel.

== The Soul ==

There are millions of different personalities out there. Maybe you're on a softball team and another team member constantly drops the ball. Does this tick you off, while others simply brush it off? Perhaps you and your spouse both hear a news story about how a lost dog found its way home. Does you heart go out to the animal, while your better half doesn't give a damn? Maybe you're at a comedy club with a friend, and the guy on stage starts imitating Robert DeNiro. Do you laugh hysterically while your friend just sits, stoically hoping for a joke? Encountering the melting pot of personalities around us is part of what makes life so unpredictable sometimes.

There have been many times when I did not agree with the group I happened to be with, and that was uncomfortable for a long time. Thankfully, I eventually discovered that quite often, it's okay to be different. I found that as long as I was willing to stand up for something I truly believed in, and defend it with confidence and conviction, anyone willing to listen would accept my opinion, and sometimes even agree. Even if they disagreed, showing confidence increased my chances of at least getting respect. That means a lot to many of us frail humans.

== The Point ==

If this makes any sense, all of my blathering about individuality will lead you to the conclusion that individualism is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with advocating and working for the good of the individual. Certainly, it shouldn't be done all the time, as some great achievements and discoveries have been made when working for the collective, but it shouldn't be ignored, either. Individualism allows for basic human rights, encourages healthy (but not volatile) debate, provides varied avenues to follow in pursuit of a common goal, and just makes life more appealing.

If you'd still like to be a sheep, lemming, borg, or some other creature that hardly thinks for itself, I can not stop you. All I'm saying is that individualism, within the confines of the law and society, should be celebrated and embraced by the individual, and given the recognition it deserves by the powers that be.