Individual & the Group
In light of recent events in the modern narrative, the idea of social responsibility has raucously collided with individual sovereignty.
This is a particular place and intersection with which I’ve had a long-established and storied relationship.
Such a timely topic in fact because I am currently, and successfully, I might add, unlearning the rules of the former, in favor of the empowering context of the latter.
The rules that say that I am somehow indebted to my family, my ancestors, my ethnic group, or my country to live my life in a certain way for their benefit, over mine. It generates a looming sense of duty and bleak morality.
East meets West
If I do what I want because I want to do it, even though it is not aligned with the larger group I am a part of … Asian culture considers this as “ being selfish “.
If I do what I want because I want to do it, even though it is not aligned with the larger group I am a part of … American culture considers this as “ being a maverick “.
Of course, there are nuances. If what you do is in poor taste or outright harmful to yourself or others, then nobody is calling you a maverick so much as whispering or darting concerned glances your way.
For a long time, I grappled between the two. Which one is right?!
Childhood conditioning created a program, but the world around me was different.
Asia ― the model minority. Where straight A’s meet tiger moms and violins. The land of Kumons and children who behave at restaurants.
America ― the land of freethinkers. Where independence meets gumption and chutzpah. The land of unicorns and homeschooled children.
Nowadays, I hear Americans speak about social responsibility while praising countries like China who was able to institute lockdown measures with the calculating swiftness typical of Asiatic efficacy. We’re just mad efficient, yo.
And there are others who speak out about their freedom to choose and the slippery slope when choice is taken away during a crisis. We see it happening now as it did with the Patriot Act.
But, this isn’t a post about politics. This is a post about my own newfound sovereignty … because my coin has finally flipped and I’m seeing it reflected in the conversations around me.
Changing of the Guard
The pilots are changing guard and the new messaging is that I do what I want.
That there is nothing more enjoyable than doing whatever the fuck I want.
Because I just realized that I can.
This is my real, brick & mortar life and I get to make all the decisions in it!
And here’s the thing, whatever I actually want is for the greater good of society because if I listen to my True Voice — not the voice of my mom or dad or society who tell me their desires of how I should be and who I should be and where I should be and why — I would actually be embodying my true nature.
I would actually be utilizing all the skills and tools I have to my greatest ability because there’s this little magical thing called intuition. And the closer and closer I get to that — the closer I get to goodness, because that’s the nature of Nature.
That’s the whole basis behind a modern educational movement called unschooling, where self-directed learning is promoted.
The idea is that by allowing the child freedom to follow her inner nature and choose the direction of studies, her unique interests and skills will be realized. This offers more growth and deeper learning than institutionalized education could ever provide.
In ancient China, there was a maverick philosopher named Yang Zhu who believed in the individual OVER the group, a form of radical ethical egoism to act only in self-interest.
He believed that any state intervention is morally flawed and entangling oneself in trying to change the affairs of others or the world would not only be fruitless, but also endanger your own health. Therefore, the only rational thing to do was to take care of your health and well-being and follow your own inner nature for self-cultivation.
“[People] dispose of their glory for the benefit of their clan” ― Yang Zhu
And of course, no topic on ethical egoism is complete without mentioning Ayn Rand:
“Collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group-whether to a race, class or state does not matter. Collectivism holds that man must be chained to collective action and collective thought for the sake of what is called “the common good.”― Ayn Rand
If everyone acted in interest of their own health and well-being, could it be possible that all these happy, healthy individuals could lead to a happy and healthy society?
We all come out of the womb acting on our desires, pretty well aware of what they are and unabashed in expressing it.
Over time, we learn through discipline or responses from others, which of our actions garner us approval or disapproval. And desiring love, we begin modifying our behavior.
Some of us do this with such success that we end up not knowing how to direct ourselves without somebody else’s directions. Even in recent years, I’ve been known to ask for permission from the nearest adult.
“The child is father of the Man …” from My Heart Leaps Up by William Wordsworth
When I read this as a highschooler in my Brit Lit class, I understood it to mean that child is closer to enlightened consciousness than the adult.
And almost 15 years later, here I am, unlearning the rules and returning to my child-like sovereignty, guided by my own inner wisdom, rather than somebody else’s.
Back to Basics
The thing is, after decades of trying to make other people happy, I am fed up. Putting so much time, effort, and energy into other people’s dreams suddenly seems like a very strange thing to do.
After a decade of confusion, I’m not grappling anymore. I’ve decided for myself that individual sovereignty is what my soul needs right now.
Perhaps this will change later on when my situation changes. Who knows? Who cares. I’m listening to my inner guide right now and the more I cultivate this listening, the more I’ll know the right thing to do as it comes up.
That’s the whole point of this personal sovereignty and accountability thing.
It offers a real and valuable lesson in learning because it allows space for change. To shift and groove by feeling, knowing, and trusting one’s own desires and how and when to move.
At the turn of my third decade around the sun, I am doing things massively differently. I’m doing what I want to do because I want to do them. I am getting closer and closer to my intuition until she and I are one. And the closer I get, the more in awe I am of the dream life I’ve created for myself.
Two years ago, my New Year’s Resolution was to grow my intuition. At the time, I felt so disconnected with self and wanted to know her again.
Here she is showing up in life lessons again and again and again.
So here I am, breaking up with the idea of duty or moral obligation or social responsibility and unchecking the box for an auto-subscription to some monolithic institution by virtue of being born, and simply learning to dance to my own rhythm and song.
Because the song in me is good and is true and she is old as fuck, perhaps ageless, and has been around awhile and knows a thing or two.