I stumbled across this quote the other day and noticed how perfectly it accompanies the “adventure” of being nobody-but-yourself, whereby one day we discover our inner compass pulling at the heart of our Self, helping us to see and realize that we are so much more than what we thought we were.
Most of us pride ourselves on the fact that we are unique individuals with our own ideas, opinions, beliefs, values, attitudes, goals, aspirations, sentiments, preferences and so forth. But if we scratch the surface a little we find that most or all of what we pride ourselves on as our own is what we have learnt or inherited — genetically from our parents and ancestors, socially from our upbringing and education, socially and culturally from the society we live in, intellectually from the prevailing ideas and beliefs of the times in which we live. Where is our real individuality in all of these?
This raises a more fundamental question: ‘What does it really mean to be an individual?’ Clearly our manners and behaviors which we learn from those around us do not qualify us. Nor do our character traits and values which we inherit from our family and society. Nor do our thoughts and opinions which we acquire mainly from other people. Then what does?
To be an individual means to shift the center of reference from outside to inside. It means that we should consciously formulate and choose our thoughts, opinions, beliefs, values and attitudes rather than simply accept what others think, feel and belief to be true and right. To be a real individual is to discover the inner center of reference, to draw guidance from inside. It also means not to rely on or depend on others to support us or solve our problems. It means to be self-reliant.
Most of all, to be an individual one must be free. Not free from outer constraints but free from mental, emotional and psychological conditioning. Free to think and do what is true and right, not just what other people think and do. Free to take risks and court adventure, not bound by a need for safety and security. To be an individual is to discover the freedom of the soul and express it in life.
Individuality is often confused with being self-centered, preoccupied with our own lives, selfish and insisting on our own way. But selfishness is only egoism. A true individual can be generous, selfless and dedicated to the welfare of others. He or she can follow others or defer to their wishes out of magnanimity rather than subservience. The true individual has no need to dominate or assert. A true individual thinks of others rather than his own needs, listens to others rather than feeling the compulsion to instruct, gives to others rather than wanting to receive.Strategies for Psychological Growth