The Absurdity of Individualism

November 25, 2017 by Charlie Hedges − 0 Comments

The career of the rugged individualist in America has run mostly to absurdity, tragic or comic... Wendell Berry

I need to be very clear on one thing: I am an individualist. I thrive on freedom and independence. I retreat at any sign of someone telling me what to do or how to act, like government or churches or wives (haha, sorry Pam—but this is not new news to you).

Is Individualism Limited?

Yet… at the same time I am bound to a plethora of social responsibilities. I am not alone on this planet: I am responsible to my private social circles, to the tribes or communities with which I am a member, to my local community, to my country and to the world at large.

Yes, I honor certain boundaries to my individualism. Obviously, my adherence to independent individualism gives me no right to harm another person or group or even to dissuade another from his or her own particular form of individualism, for they have the same right to individualism as I.

More from Wendell Berry

Prolific writer and poet Wendell Berry wrote a paragraph that startled me into rethinking the boundaries of my individualism…

The career of the rugged individualist in America has run mostly to absurdity, tragic or comic… The tragic version of rugged individualism is in the presumptive “right” of individuals to do as they please, as if there were no God, no legitimate government, no community, no neighbors, and no posterity. This is most frequently understood as the right to do whatever a man pleases with his property. One’s property, according to this formulation, is one’s own absolutely.

According to Berry, one of the great thinkers of our time, all things we do or possess is somehow connected to something or someone equally as important (or even more so) than ourselves—“God, government, community, neighbors and posterity.”

Perhaps the bottom-line is that you are free to live in a way that honors your individual talents and desires while at the same time contributing to the value of society. How powerful is that? And you can do so without compromising yourself and your unique values and gifts.

Individualism and Legacy

As I grow older the idea of legacy is becoming more important to me than ever before. I hope that, at the end of my days, I will be able to look back and say, “I lived a good life. I did what I wanted to do as I, in some small way, made a difference in the ones I love and those I care about—even if I don’t know them personally, like my wells in Uganda.”

I think it’s simply about the integration of your personal gifts, personality and desires with the good of those who are co-dwellers in and out of you individual circles.

Your Story

I’m curious. How do YOU integrate your individualism with your social responsibility? This may be one of America’s greatest contributions to civilization: the power of the individual to impact the world without compromising the needs of either.

I’d love to read your comments. Until next!


Comes with Responsibility

Photo courtesy of MoustacheGirl at istockphoto

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