Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Let it be

In this morning's paper in a column of advice for teenagers a young lady wrote as follows:
she and a friend of ten years went out for soccer. Her friend did well, but she sprained an ankle and had to drop out. This year they went out again, but she didn't do well and dropped out. At this point her friend of ten years turned on her; she felt their friendship was threatened or maybe over.

She went on to explain that she was booked up every evening (for some activity) and frequently didn't get to study before 9 P.M.
She was unhappy enough to write to the adviser.

Flash back some 65 years: we've just moved back to N.O. after an absence of most of my life. I'm entered into a massive downtown high school. I soon take my place with a handful of misfits: I don't know the jargon, nor do I subscribe to the majority values; my social skills are minimal. I'm out of the loop.

At lunch time a handful of us huddled together in the cafeteria. I remember one boy in particular; he was the oddest ball of the lot. No way he could ever hope to shape up and be accepted.

Several years later I met Roy on the street. He was a bit bigger, working as a merchant seaman or pipe fitter or brick layer or something of that sort. Completely self assured, at ease with the world; the teenage difficulties left far behind.

What's going on here? The little girl, Roy and I all flunked high school 101, social conditioning. Chances are we won't take that second job in order to buy our BMW or whatever the tribal god is in our set.

The beatles had it right when they sang, Let it Be. Be an individual, man. Don't go along with the crowd; do your own thing. That was one of the greatest gifts the sixties generation left to us.

If your parents are rigid religionists, maybe you need atheism for a while. You'll come around, with an adult religion, not a second hand one. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness.

Nietzsche wrote:
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

And:
The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.

And the one I like best, although I couldn't find it anywhere:
Do me the honor of being my (adversary, opponent, whatever?)

3 comments:

Liz Opp said...

Nietzsche wrote:
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.


The problem I have with Nietzsche's words is that they imply that being an individual should be held in higher regard than being part of a tribe, a community. Those sound like a (Western white) man's words to me, where the norm is to individuate and be independent; and being interdependent or relying on extended family or being attached to a community is seen as immature or unhealthy.

But among women sociologists and feminist psychologists, health is defined in relation to our connections with one another, not with our degree of individuation.

I personally prefer the "BOTH/AND" approach to development: we must both individuate to discover our true Self and connect authentically within a larger group to know ourselves fully. Paying too much attention to one without the other may find us either in a cult (we've compromised ourselves away for the sake of community) or clinically depressed, spiritually isolated, or socially disconnected (we've insisted on remaining independent above all else).

In befriending and getting to know my 4-year-old niece, I am often seeking the balance of supporting her individuality ("Well, Madison, what do you want to do?") and encouraging her to participate in a small group ("Hey, Madison, we're all working on this puzzle. Wanna help?").

Life is seldom easy, huh?

Blessings,
Liz

Jon said...

I wonder if there are any mystics who didn't fail high school 101? I know I did!

Larry said...

Thanks for the comments, friends.

Jon: mysticism seems to be primarily a solitary activity, and it seems to me that high school 101 frowns on solitude.

Liz, what you say has a lot of truth. However I don't think that's the norm for many westerm white men that I know. IMO tribalism is so rampant in our culture that individualists are an endangered species. Giving youself to a group makes it all too easy to leave your brains in their care.