You are not an individual

There’s a common and pervasive lie we’ve all been told, and one that almost all of us believe without thought or investigation; the lie that we are an individual. While it’s true in a very primitive understanding, overall it’s a complete lie.

If you don’t grow your food, find materials to construct your home, or cobble your shoes, or sew together your clothes; if you don’t draw your water, or provide your electricity, or dispose of your waste and sewage; if you don’t pave your roads, or establish road safety rules, or erect road signs, traffic stops, and guard rails, or build your bike, motorcycle, or car; if you don’t develop your education materials, or teach your curriculum, or collect your research; if you don’t provide your own income, or interact with any other human, animal, plant, or object; unless you birthed yourself out of nothing, created the entire universe, and rely on literally no one or nothing other than yourself for anything in your life, you are not an individual.

You are a collective. You are apart of an organism. And as a member of this organism you have a role and sometimes a duty.

So what’s wrong with thinking of ourself as an individual? We are separate people with independent thought and action. I have my own mind and body. I choose what I believe, what I own, where I live, and who I love. But our thoughts and actions are connected to everything outside of ourselves, whether we are aware of it or not.

scene from Monty Python’s Life Of Brian

The belief in the individual creates a myopic perspective of our actions as it relates to their consequences. We believe that our decision to drive a little more reckless because we’re running late, or drink a bit more than we should because we’re out with friends, or not to vote because it doesn’t matter, all stems from the idea that “Who could it hurt? I’m just one person. This doesn’t affect me. It’s not my problem.” and that’s the issue.

Thinking that our single action affects no one but ourselves is the reason we don’t aspire to try a little harder, to take the extra effort, to take a risk despite our fear, to put more time into things that aren’t only about ourselves. Because everything we have, everything we do, everything we believe is from somewhere and therefore impacts someone and something else. Always.

When you do something — anything — you are apart of an orgasm of tens of hundreds of thousands of millions of billions of others who will do, say, and believe the exact same thing as you. When you don’t vote, or don’t stop to help someone, or to give to a cause, or volunteer your time, or use less energy, or be more patient, or chose your words more carefully, or not eat that unhealthy food, or stop to help, or talk to that loved one, all because “I’m busy”, and it’s “not my problem”, and probably “someone else will do it”; there are tens and hundreds and thousands and millions of others who are thinking just like you. Your decisions and actions and beliefs matter because they involve more than yourself. Despite being an individual, you are inexorably bound to everything.

At this time in our country, and world, as our shortsighted self-interests continue to have impending, unrealized consequences, maybe it’s time to stop thinking of ourselves as individuals for the good of everything.