There is something sickening about our obsession with independence. Giving us every reason to stand apart from everyone else, separation goes to the heart of our identity, who matters, and who doesn’t.
Being a particularly Western concept, the belief that we are on our own has deep implications for the way we behave. After all, if serving ourselves is key priority, our quiet fight continually asserts that – when all is said and done – we are number one.
Yet that’s not the way people think in a lot of other cultures. Japanese people, for instance, consider themselves part of a group within bigger groups. Unlike English speaking societies, this identity of togetherness is central to everyone’s sense of themselves: not who am I, but who are we?
Compare this group character approach to societies that reinforce individual identity first and foremost. Where togetherness takes precedence most people feel a sense of belonging that’s strong. Yet, for most Westerners, a common belief holds that you get your essential value by being separate.
You can be wandering through a street teeming with people and yet feel utterly, and desperately alone. By valuing individuality so highly as a defining reality people pay a diabolical price. Which leaves me in something of quandary. While I uphold the value of individuality and celebrate our uniqueness, I can also see the lack of balance and the damage being done.
Consider the angst and terrible loneliness that many a teenager goes through. As if physical changes weren’t enough, this undue focus on separateness cuts teens off from what they desperately seek: a grounding sense of belonging.
But of course that need to belong is true for all of us. And while group thinking and loss of identity are ever-present counterpoints to consider, we do better being less independent and more connected in togetherness. As a consequence we could free ourselves from the awful scourge of loneliness.
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