The Individual

A unique entity with the potential to do more and be more through engagement

The image of this drop of water on a stem reminds me of a common metaphor used to describe the nature of the human-divine relationship. While each drop of water is singular, unique, individual and ever changing regardless of its size, shape or location, they are all water. Human beings are like that—drops of spirit in the infinite ocean of the divine.

Considering the mass shootings that are occurring so often, one of the predominant patterns being reported in the news indicates that the perpetrators were disenfranchised individuals, people who for various reasons “fell through the cracks” within their social circumstances—family, school, church, workplace or other. Even those involved in hate crimes or terrorist activities are often individuals who were neglected, abused or otherwise marginalized in their youth.

Whether an individual is mentally ill or has a troubled background, feelings of anger and resentment escalate when a person is disregarded or discarded. I’m not a psychologist, but common sense suggests that these individuals need the right kind of attention, whether it be love, support or friendship. When they don’t get it, feeling depressed and hopeless, that life has no meaning for them, it’s understandable that they may want to strike back or commit suicide.

Linda tells about the nuns in high school who encouraged their students to never let anyone feel excluded. Her group in particular took it to heart by inviting a particularly shy and quiet girl to sit with them at lunch time. Years later, the popular girls again invited her to sit with them at their fiftieth reunion.

Another example: on “Fun Night” at my parent’s retirement center, my mother always encouraged anyone sitting alone on sidelines to dance. Several of these widely diverse people—who said they didn’t dance but did with her—became her best friends and helpmates. Of course, there’s no way to know how those lives might have been otherwise, but engaging those who tend to be shy, alone or even preferring to be alone, is something that everyday people in everyday situations can take notice of and as a result attempt to make a difference in someone’s life.

Anthropologist Ashley Montagu observed that “Persons… come into being only through social interactions. The interacting person finds the meaning of his life in his relations with other persons and their thoughts and activities.” Without interaction, an individual feels—is—adrift.

Social psychologist Erich Fromm articulated the consequences of feeling alone, disrespected or ostracized. “Unless a person feels that he belongs somewhere, unless his life has some meaning and direction, he would feel like a particle of dust and be overcome by his individual insignificance. He would not be able to relate himself to any system which would give meaning and direction to his life. He would be filled with doubt and this doubt eventually would paralyze his ability to act—that is, to live.”

The statistics on teen suicide are evidence of this isolation—and a call for those who see something to say something. We think of that phrase in terms of public safety. “Be on the lookout for suspicious activity.” But equally important, we can notice people. If so many “loners” are part of the problem, one of the solutions is for us, wherever we are, wherever we go, to engage the people we see who may be in dire need of “How are you, today?” What are you up to these days?” Even more, to probe a little to see if there might be a common interest.

In that drop of water, I also see an individual filled with potential. Although the details within it may be obscure or hidden, they can come into focus through engagement with other drops. Merging, they have the potential to create a pond, perhaps to understand their nature.

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a Promontory were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne, English cleric and metaphysical poet

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