The topic of this article has been on my list of articles to write for a long time. So, the fact that you are actually seeing this is, to me, quite an achievement. I think the reason it took so long to get it out was because I feel I touch on quite a structural problem in society. Here’s the thing:
I believe today’s western society is structurally broken and individualism is one of the major causes.
When talking about the western society, I am primarily talking about Western Europe and North America, since those are the regions I am most familiar with. Similar trends may occur elsewhere in the world but I prefer not to judge those that I have not had any in depth experiences with.
That being said, chances are reasonable I am talking about you. This article might offend you. And it might trigger you to close this article. Which would probably just proof the point I am about to make.
The point is that many people today are in favour of the opinion that you should be able to do everything you want and say everything you want to say, because you can. As long as anything you do and say will not effect me in any way. Well, that’s not really the point. It is actually more the symptom. The real point is that it is impossible.
It is impossible for each and everybody to be able to say and do what they want without effecting anybody else in any way.
But still it happens from time to time. Somebody does something that makes us feel uncomfortable (in whatever way), which frustrates us, whereafter we reach out to social media, to do exactly what we did not want the other person, or company, to do to us. That enables a chain of reactions, with our without third parties (especially on Twitter), leading to nothing but individual frustration bottom line.
And what does it bring us? Do we feel better because we raised our voice? Do we feel justice has been done because we were able to do what we wanted to do? Well, we might think so. However, by putting our freedom to act and freedom of speech above everyone else’s, we basically excluded ourselves from others around us. And, if all (or: the large majority) of us do that, we end up in a pretty individualistic environment.
In other words: we’re alone.
Now, if you don’t mind, or actually prefer to be alone, that is probably just where you wanted to be in the first place. I am convinced though you’re missing out on one of the essential concepts of life: being a connected individual. A human being, mentally wired to connect and interact with other human beings. Imagine we’d all support a different sports team, or cling to a different religion or favourite music genre. We’d end up with over six billion different religions, an equal amount of opinions and an equal amount of people trying to convince other people that theirs is superior, without willing to listen to the the people around since we are all okay with what other people say and do, as long as they don’t bother us with it. So basically, we’re shutting everybody down.
It doesn’t need to be that way though!
I believe we should act different. And I believe we can act different. I believe that by default, a group of people that is willing to seek each other is stronger in anything than any individual. I believe that, if we forsake our own pride and our priorities, in order to learn from others, we will rise beyond where we would have ever ended up on our own. We need other people. We can learn from other people. We can grow, with and through other people. There are obviously a whole lot of quotes that I can throw against this but let’s take a look at areas I stipulated earlier on:
- Isn’t a sports game way more fun if you are cheering on your favourite team together with thousands of likeminded fans? And isn’t it true that a crowd that stands behinds their team may sometimes feel like an extra player on the field?
- Isn’t a concert much more of a remembrance and experience if the hall is filled with people that are just as enthousiast about the band’s latest album as you are? You likely don’t know the people you’re attending the concert with and you might not agree with their overall vision on life. But the fact you have a shared passion for the performing artists makes you like them more.
- And lastly: religion. There is so much that can divide us when it comes to religion. But there’s way more that binds us together. I encourage you to research how other ‘believers’ practice their religion, regardless of what that religion is exactly. Because it will give you new insights, even though you might disagree with them on many, many other elements.
So where do you start?
- Imagine the other person to be wiser than you are and show a humble and genuine interest in the other person and what drives him or her. Open op yourself and take a learning mindset. Don’t wait for the other person to do that. Start it yourself and wait others to see the benefits of it, through you.
- Understand, before trying to be understood. This is a hard one, because so often are we just listening to prep our next sharp and judging response. Take a close look at how the sentence is constructed. There’s no “try to understand”. Understand. Before you are trying to be understood.
I believe it was Nelson Mandela that recalled a story in his biography where he shares how a tribal meeting took place in South Africa. The next speaker was only allowed to express his opinion after he had explained the opinion of the previous speaker and that speaker had confirmed that the current speaker had understood and expressed his opinion correctly. It is a beautiful method, but it might be a bit difficult to achieve in today’s environment. So let’s take the essence of it and embed it into our lives!