Tuesday, February 1, 2011

On Being an Individual

Human beings are strange creatures. We recognize our unique individuality while at the same time recognizing that we are part of a greater whole, members of a group. Life becomes a balancing act between doing what we want to do and between fitting in to a group of which we are a member. But this assumes that the individual is key in this discussion, that all things revolve around the needs and wants of the individual. Even group membership is looked at from the perspective of the individual.

Unfortunately, today the model above has been reversed: it is the group that has become dominant and the individual who has become secondary. Survival of the group takes precedence over survival of any individual member of that group. There is no longer a balance between the two, with accomodations necessary on both sides for the survival of either.

Klal Yisroel, as a group, has always had wide diversity in the individuals who comprised the group. This is not only referring to religious observance, the most obvious, but to issues of "style," and to issues of "custom," and to issues of skills and aptitudes. We have always tolerated diversity as long as this diversity did not threaten the basic existence of the group. Today, however, the group is taking a different attitude towards what "threatens" basic existence. It is total uniformity that is being aimed for. In doing so, those who insist on complete homogeneity do not realize that they are ensuring that survival of the group will be threatened.

Those whom we consider the "greats" among mankind had and have one thing in common: they were individuals first and foremost. They mostly early on had a bent towards one particular type of endeavor or another, and they pursued that endeavor wholeheartedly. Granted, there were some who had to overcome obstacles before they could devote themselves to their burning passions, but overcome them they did, to all of our benefit. It matters not that some of those "greats" applied themselves to prodigious Jewish learning and some to secular matters; each, in their own way contributed something of necessity for the continuance of Klal, and yes, for the outside world as well.

Go ahead, name the names of the great ones in Klal--part of the group and yet individuals all. And yes, how different so many of these greats were one from the other. And no, they were not always in agreement, one with the other. The Gemorrah and our history are full of the reports of differences of opinion, differences that were debated. Where shall our next generations of great people come from if we insist that all must conform exactly to the group with individuality shunned?

To squelch individuality is to preclude our best and our brightest and our most talented from reaching for the stars in fulfilling their destiny.


JS said...

It's like Monty Python said:

"We are all individuals!"

frum single female said...

well said.