Thursday, May 01, 2008

Frlends Wlth Beneflts....

De asked a really important question in comments on my last post and it's had me thinking all day. She says: Can you address the value of the individual, though? I often feel hopeless, and question the worth of my own life. Is it as straightforward as one's value stemming from being part of the whole, the "divine?"

The answer is yes and no. And not entirely. That's part of it, sure. But the defining difference in my perception is between individuality and individualism.

Individuality is an aggregate of all our traits and characteristics, positive and negative. It is what makes us who we are. It is what we bring to the collective table. It is how we find a place in the social web. Without individuality, there would be no creativity.

When I was in Thailand a few months ago, and when I was there several years ago, one of the things I took note of is how we interacted together. My rather annoying trait of objectively observing social dynamics is rooted in my educational background. It's second nature. Here's what I noted:

We did nearly everything together. We cooked together. We kept the house together. We shopped together. We talked together. We laughed, we bickered and we shared. Perhaps the only thing we did in a totally private setting was make love or defecate. I'm sure you get my point. What I'm saying is that we created together. We didn't create the closeness because we shared our deepest emotional secrets. We created it because we depended on each other daily.

One of the things that became very clear was our individuality. We each had different traits that when combined allowed us to do that. We had to get along. We each had to do our part. We each had to come through and be responsible or the whole thing fell apart. It put boundaries on our behavior. We couldn't just blow something off because we didn't want to be bothered. We couldn't decide at the last minute that we'd rather do something else because we depended on each other. Interdependence.

A more recent example is in my interactions with the wat which I mentioned earlier. We have managed to work things out. One of the ways I knew it had really worked out and that it wasn't just making nice is that I got the following message: FYI - The temple committee is planning another celebration coming up in June. If you're free -- help is always needed. That let me know that I was accepted - as an individual. Mainly because in the process of helping, all the things I mentioned above will apply. I will bring my individuality to that setting and, with others, determine how we'll create together. They are allowing me that much entry into their community.

Our individuality is what allows us to share of ourselves. Without us, the entire dynamic of the group would change.

Individualism on the other hand is defined as A social philosophy which stresses the importance of the individual above society.

Individualism is what separates us. Individualism is what makes us question the value or importance of our own lives. Human beings are social animals and individualism tends to monetize or make all interactions utilitarian. We become consumers rather than participants. Rational self-interest becomes the highest motive in our interactions with others. It causes our relationships to be superficial and then we question our worth. You, De, and I were raised in that kind of social system. A mark of good mental health, according to the PTB in that field, is "knowing how to recognize opportunities and take advantage of them."

Gee, doesn't that just give you the warm fuzzies?

So.. at least in my opinion.. the value of our own lives as individuals has some dependence on what we bring to the table, what we are willing to create with others, simply because we are all on this planet together and we need each other. Not because of advantage and not because of self-interest. Combined individuality is what feeds our souls and makes us whole. That is what makes me honor you and hopefully you to honor me. That is what makes us unique. No other reason. Just that we need each other and give of ourselves freely.

This is Part One of the answer.... with more to come. :)



Defiantmuse said...

I honestly love to read your blog.
you're so familiar to me, familiar as in, "ahhh yes! -click-".
if that makes sense.
you are refreshing and real.

Anonymous said...

I really could have used another hand over here when I was trying to hand my curtains...Once you get them on the rod, it's too heavy and the darn thing wiggles and bends. Who would think that curtain rods would point out how solitary my life is?

Looking forward to more, and hopefully enough brain power to think it through and come up with more questions. :)

Girlplustwo said...

i very much enjoy it when you post about these topics. the idea of community, not in an earth shattering peak experience sort of way but rather in a everyday this is how we live's one i've not been able to experience.

Chanda (aka Bea) said...

Once again you have given me something to think on. Im looking forward to part two.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I really like this post.

In my individual experience, the Native American culture, which is inclusive rather than exclusive, is similar to what you describe in Thailand.

People are recognized for their personal gifts and are expected to use them for the good of all. When that is not done, it is considered that the person has sold out somewhat to the dominant culture.

Ego is what gets in the way of societies living this model. It is ego that requires us to be better than others, or to recognize opportunities in order to take advantage of them.

Just the words "take advantage" do not connote a community-minded lifestyle.

painted maypole said...

this was really interesting, and i think that american society is really missing something by teaching independence over interdependence

Anonymous said...

This is the way I see it: many colors, one painting; many notes, one song.

The whole is dependent on the parts, the parts without the whole are meaningless.

There's something going on that we're meant to be a part of. We don't have to be a part if we don't want to, but if we don't join in, then we miss out.

Liz Dwyer said...

This is such a good post. Thank you for taking the time to break it on down for us. This individualism is exactly what's destroying our country. Gosh, we can see through the presidential primaries how individualism puts a horrible energy into the world. People think they need to give up their individuality but what they need to give up is their rampant individualism.

S said...

los angelista hit on something that's been bothering me for some time. why do the candidates need to campaign? why not simply have them write down their answers to relevant questions and let us take it from there, simple as that?

campaigning is divisive, and ugly, and incorporates the worst of individualism.

Janet said...

The -ity vs -ism is an important distinction. You articulated the critical differences very well.

Nice post.

thailandchani said...

Defiant, yes... I think we both understand kwaam jing. :) That's important. I have the feeling that when you start writing your truth, we're all going to be educated by it. :)


De, you've hit on an essential point.. and it's another post.


Jen, with the current social ethic, you won't experience it. Not yet.


Chanda, thank you :) Have I mentioned to you how much I like that name? Chanda? Very beautiful!


Susan, *bingo*! I'm just waiting for someone's permission to use a quote from her site.. and when I get it, I'll be posting more on this.


PM, absolutely. It's harming not only its own society but spreading it to the rest of the world.


Thomas, yes... dependent origination.


Liz, such a good point! I agree with you. As SM says, they should each publish a position paper and people choose from that. But competition is ingrained into consumer culture. Picking a candidate becomes like picking a pair of shoes.


SM, right on. Very good point. I wish someone would write a post about that. (hint hint)



Janet, thanks. :)


Julie Pippert said...

Chani, the interesting thing I think is the geographic element.

You keep saying US culture, and on some level, it's an accurate statement, but your experience in your region isn't the same thing someone elsewhere would experience.

This is one thing I think small, Southern towns have going for them. Our sense of community is tremendous.

It's expected here to get to know one another and do together.

My best friend and another close friend (single mom) went on a retreat. It wasn't even a question that my friend's husband and I would simply combine families and cooperatively care for all of the kids together this weekend (7 total).

Last week my health food store lady knew I liked to bake and compost so gave me bananas instead of throwing them out. Six bunches were still good for baking. I couldn't use that many so I called my friend and we split them, and both our families got fresh home-made banana bread.

That's how it is here.

Individuality and community as you describe it are alive and well in the US, too.

Just to differing degrees and not everywhere.

That's not to say that there isn't also rampant individualism---sadly, it's there and powerful.

I just read a local new story about it, in fact.

Also, I think this is a great post and topic.

But it's worth considering too that it's not necessarily the every day for everyone, too.

Angela said...

I'd just have to add my "ahhh, yes"es, too. Individuals in interdependent relationships. Yes, yes, yes.

Anonymous said...


Is it very strange that this post seems to speak to my recent post on playgrounds? People begin confusing individuality with individualism when raising children and create such messes.


thailandchani said...

Julie, it's nice to know that still exists.. and I hope those regions manage to hang on to that. I suppose the things I am talking about are fairly specific urban conditions but at the same time, it manifests at more subtle levels. What you are experiencing is fairly unique - and may even be the fact that you are a SAHM and can do what it takes to create it.


Angela, it would make so much more sense - and luckily, we do get to choose it.


Emily, that's where it starts. Not just the parents, but the educational system as well. (uh oh. Another post. :)