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\”Individuality\” – Word of the Week

Definition of the word of the week (INDIVIDUALITY): The aggregate of qualities and characteristics that distinguish one person or thing from other.

Famous World War I flying ace, Eddie Rickenbacker, once wrote, “The four cornerstones of character on which the structure of this nation was built are: initiative, imagination, individuality, and independence.” I believe that we need to encourage people to express their individuality within norms.

Pressure to fit a mold and blend in can be overwhelming. In school, most students are told to sit in rows, do their work, and be quiet. At one time, such instruction prepared the students for future factory work. However, the time for breaking this mold has long since passed.

Within social groups, students feel extreme pressure to fit in. This peer pressure can result in them doing things in which they do not believe just to win the group’s approval. At this level of moral reasoning, fashion becomes a major concern. However, a key point about individuality is that simply because others do it, does not necessarily make it right. For example, how many of us have seen a young man with his trousers intentionally sagged to the point of showing his rear end? Some justify this behavior as fashion. Personally, whenever I see someone intentionally sagging his trousers, I think “What an idiot.” This is a clear example where efforts to fit in and “be cool” have gone too far.

People expressing their individuality should be encouraged to speak their minds but that does not give them license to say anything that pops into their heads. Rather, they should develop their critical thinking skills and challenge social norms by speaking out against something that troubles their conscience. Society has always relied on a few stalwart individuals to challenge conventional wisdom in order to progress.

Just because “everybody does it” does not make it right. One can discern “the right” by using reason. Then, one should not be afraid to speak one’s mind and question the status quo. Humankind would never progress otherwise.

One of my favorite poets, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, wrote, “What is genius but the power of expressing a new individuality?”

The following quotations are intended to assist in explaining and exemplifying the word of the week:

My great mistake, the fault for which I can’t forgive myself, is that one day I ceased my obstinate pursuit of my own individuality. Oscar Wilde, Author

Those who talk about individuality the most are the ones who most object to deviation, and in a few years it may be the other way around. Some day everybody will just think what they want to think, and then everybody will probably be thinking alike. Andy Warhol, Artist

No one can transcend their own individuality. Arther Schopenhauer, Philosopher

Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself. Carl Jung, Psychiatrist

I live in company with a body, a silent companion, exacting and eternal. He it is who notes that individuality which is the seal of the weakness of our race. My soul has wings, but the brutal jailer is strict. Eugene Delacroix, Artist

Individuality is either the mark of genius or the reverse. Mediocrity finds safety in standardization. Frederick Crane

By measuring individual human worth, the novelist reveals the full enormity of the State’s crime when it sets out to crush that individuality. Ian Moewan, Author

Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality. Von Goethe, Poet

Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, no matter what name it is called. John Stuart Mill, Philosopher

It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world. The great man or woman is the one who never steps outside his or her specialty or foolishly dissipates his or her individuality. Og Mandino, Motivational author

It a blessed thing that in every age some one has had the individuality enough and courage enough to stand by his own convictions. Robert Ingersoll, Orator

No one should part with their individuality and become that of another. William Channing, Author

Individuality is founded in feeling; and the recesses of feeling, the darker, blinder strata of character, are the only places in the world in which we catch real fact in the making, and directly perceive how events happen, and how work is actually done. William James, Author

The writer in western civilization has become not a voice of his tribe, but of his individuality. This is a very narrow-minded situation. Aharon Appelfeld, Israeli novelist

LTC Patrick Beer, the Dean of Students and Commandant of Cadets at Georgia Military College, prepares this study guide each week as part of the institution’s character education program. He welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. He can be contacted by phone, 478-445-2710 or by email, pbeer@gmc.cc.ga.us