The Myth of the Individual

“If I have seen further,
it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

– Sir Isaac Newton –

A friend of mine once told me that I’d make a great consultant because of my ability to “detach.” I think he meant that while I’m good at helping a group or a team identify and work toward their goals, I’m not really interested in being a team member, allowing me not to get attached to outcomes and allowing me to remain an objective source of perspective and support. At the time I took it as a compliment because it validated my self-perception. I valued my autonomy, the ability to be (or at least act like) the expert but to do so in my own way, on my own terms. I liked being needed and I valued the ability to leave when I was done. Mostly I liked that this model kept things very clean. No attachments and no mess.

Today, I don’t see it as a compliment. What I believe is that my friend was seeing me accurately and describing it in very generous terms. I believe he saw someone who was on the run; afraid to attach because of what it would demand of me; afraid to be needed because I might not have enough to give; afraid to be a part of a team because doing so required me to care less about myself and more about others; afraid to be about “us” instead of about “me.”

The myth of the individual is about thinking I can do more on my own than I can do with others.

The myth of the individual is “I did it by myself” and “look how great I am,”
hollow pleas for affirmation and recognition.

The myth of the individual is that being separate brings distinction when it really brings isolation.

The myth of the individual is that others are a means to an end rather than a source of joyful support, encouragement and inspiration.

The myth of the individual is that keeping score of my riches is more fulfilling than making riches possible for others.

The myth of the individual is that I was born and will die alone, as if no one has provided for me along the way; maybe not everything, and maybe not how I would have wanted it, but enough.

The myth of the individual is that by playing it safe I protect against my fear of loss instead of risking the real loss that comes from a life lived in self-imposed exile.

The truth is this: there is nothing I will ever accomplish in my life, at any level and to any degree of significance that will not require the faithful support, trust and deep generosity of others.

© 2010 David Berry

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