The Relevant Individual

I’ve been considering these thoughts for quite a while now, and am somewhat ready to share them with you. It’s my hope that you’ll read through this and add your thoughts to the mix too.

Throughout the years, I have noticed that here in the United States (though certainly not unique to this country) there is a tacit desire to be recognized first and foremost as an individual. We work hard to project that we are a society of hearty, self-made, solitary characters. Certainly we are a robust and confident people, and our collective hard work and unique vision for independence has helped shape our nation, but individualism isn’t the complete expression of who we are.

We revere and reward bold individualism as the ultimate expression of one’s value and relevance to our culture. Yet interestingly enough, once recognized and singled out, those individuals who exhibit the greatest eccentricity are often quickly co-opted by the marketplace and are then lifted up as ones to emulate (oddly stifling further explorations of individualism). In order to maintain relevance in this paradigm one must continually and at all costs be on the leading edge, pushing boundaries, making and remaking unique personal statements. New is everything! This type of relevance is simply a thin veneer, which is celebrated primarily for its novelty and the ever elusive “wow factor.”

Relevance, when judged solely by its commercial value is the antithesis of a broad and lasting relevance, which often takes the shape of somewhat odd or unpopular, obscure visions that are cultivated deeply, over time and in the shadows of the mainstream. True relevance enhances community. Commercial relevance is driven by the singular desire to capitalize on the financial aspect of individualism. There appears to be a cultural blindness to the fact that as we commodify everything, our understanding of holistic value is skewed. The implementation of measured and calculated marketing, places a sustained emphasis on newness, which ensures a continued desire for more by creating fears of being left behind, deemed irrelevant or out of date. This fact encourages a steady flow of commerce but it doesn’t ensure deep exploration of peripheral ideas simply because they lack the glamor of marketability.

History shows, that as individuals we are absolutely capable of developing rich ideas and fantastic creations that have the potential for a far-reaching, lasting impact. Today it is quite often believed that individuals and their ideas develop on their own, and marketplace pressures have trained us to be to slow to admit that many of our own ideas and creations have encouraged through external influences. An admission that we are inspired to those around us and beholden to those who have gone before us is often thought of as a confession that we lack original thought. Yet, it is vital to acknowledge that our individualism is truly a byproduct of our community – specifically our relationships and experiences.

Our best chances to become fully relevant and influential to our community comes as we view our own individuality in light of the communal collectivism that has informed and influenced our capacity for uniqueness. Our individualism is undoubtedly intertwined with the individualism of each of those we interact with, and to believe that we act alone will ultimately limit our impact. We will benefit, and the greater community will benefit from the realization that we are only fully capable of being relevant individuals once we embrace our own connectivity to community.

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