INDIVIDUALITY

It takes courage and determination to be yourself because the world will never stop trying to make you like everyone else.

Discovering and developing your individuality is good for you because it's essential to your well being. How so? We need to pursue life, liberty and happiness in ways that matter to us, not someone else. We all have a vision, a dream, a passion for something inside ourselves waiting to be uncovered. In that sense, Growing Up is becoming an individual, finding yourself, discovering the meaning and purpose of your life, not the meaning of life defined in a collectively religious or secular way. It begins by satisfying the lower goals of Fulfillment—survival, security, belonging, recognition and self actualization—and progresses toward the higher goal of Selflessness.

Sometimes it's wise to follow what other people have already learned. But the things we learn for keeps are the things we discover for ourselves. So pursue your own dreams, make your own mistakes and discover your own truths. Experience is the best teacher because it gives the test first and the lesson after.

The freedom to be you is the freedom to pursue your passions and to develop your talents. If you are forced to be like everybody else, there won't be anyone free to think and act outside the box. Individuality is the root of creativity that drives the evolution of society. It takes only one creative thinker to express their opinion or to develop an argument that changes the way a large percentage of people live their lives.

Innovation, whether it comes from a genius or a person of average intelligence, makes it possible for society to move forward in technology, politics, economics, art, literature—the diverse range of human interests and pursuits. If you and I are free to express our individuality, we can contribute to the common good in a unique way. Heroes are pioneers of new ways to live because they are free to express their individuality. Voters are frequently looking for candidates with fresh, new, original ideas.

Individuality has a role in Politics too. Despots repress individuality because they don't want people to express beliefs different than the current regime. And it's much easier to exercise power when your authority has killed diversity and cloned a million John Joneses and Mary Smiths.

A few years ago, business owners were told that the government built their businesses, that their companies were made possible by the Internet, the roads and the infrastructure that the government had built. But that claim ignores history and disregards the value of individuality. An infrastructure of one kind or another has existed in every culture for thousands of years. And it has always been built by the energy, determination, genius, courage and hard work of individuals. Commerce, technology, a thriving economy—even the infrastructure—are the result of business owners, not the government.

The status quo has less effect on individuals than it does on society at large. So individuals are usually the source of change. Radicals bring change to the public forum. Conservatives bring traditions. If they find a way to temper the change with the stability of the status quo, a brave new world is possible. Radical ideas need the stability of tradition.

The words radical and traditional are frequently interpreted in pejorative ways—for opposite reasons, of course. But radical merely refers to the fundamental nature of something. And traditional refers to the stability of consensus. Changes that take place too quickly can cause unrest and instability. And when unrest and instability become precarious, a revolution can destroy a country. If you're a dictator, change is bad. If you're a citizen struggling to survive in a country ruled by a dictator, change is good. Revolutionaries want change. Dictators repress it. But either way, change is harmful when it helps the few people and hinders the many because it has little or no consensus among the many.

Individuality is a two-sided coin. One side is independence and the other side is interdependence. Unless you're a hermit, the playing field for your individuality includes other people. Every now and then, however, you'll find yourself traveling in the opposite direction of other people—sometimes your own peers. Be your self because all the other selves have been taken.

Just keep in mind that actions are not as free as opinions. You are free to resist the attempts of others to force you to conform to their standards but you will injure yourself and others if your actions are not within the limits imposed by the rights of others.

On the other hand, public opinion should not rule your world completely. Laws and regulations, cultural and religious taboos and just everyday peer pressure can prevent us from pursuing possibilities outside the norm because we fear being different.

Politics matter because the government should support and defend our individual right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Individuality matters because you and I should govern ourselves in a way that furthers our life, liberty and happiness.

Believing you are a prisoner of your inherited genes or acquired habits is making excuses for failures and mediocrity. And accepting your limitations isn't giving up free will for fate. It's staying on your path, not being kept on it. You can escape the track you're on now, whether it's a cultural, genetic, ethnic or self-imposed limitation.

Which brings me to a final point. Parents don't know who you are or who you will become from one stage of your life to another when they put a name on your birth certificate. Some fathers even name their sons after themselves. Mine did. Some sons grow up liking that. I didn't. It was a stumbling block to my quest for individuality. Names do not make you who you are. The cause and effect chain of thoughts, actions, habits and character make you who you are. But you can make your name reflect who you have become. I did and was born again to myself.