Maybe it’s just because the weekend is here and New York Times readers are reaching out beyond their job descriptions, slowing their pace momentarily, maybe looking inward. Or maybe The New York Times is sensing a trend: Nonconformists are in.
This week there has been a recap of the heartwarming Lorenzo’s oil story; an exploration of new corporate interest in mindfulness; and a discussion of patients' pleas that worked for an off-label or untested use of medication.
Evolutionary biologists say that for communities of all kinds to maintain themselves and survive, both cooperation and individuality are necessary and customary. From tiny pond dwellers competing for resources to chimps taking turns grooming each other, these are demonstrated daily both in scholarly papers and pop culture feature stories.
United States history is also known both for its groupiness and for the lone pioneer who treks through wilderness. The Westward Movement meant both circling the wagons and sending out scouts. Moving closer to city neighborhoods meant easier access to public services and also to one-person entrepreneurial opportunities. Even a motto of a cell phone provider is “Stick Together.”
Psychologically and physically speaking, ego is far from being a four-letter word. Individuals are supposed to have them. In part, that’s what makes our personalities have, well, personality. What differentiates us from each other necessarily also differentiates us from what we have in common. And that is what helps make people into people instead of pods on a matrix—varying personalities going about their own business in their own ways, at the same time sharing and becoming and being and maintaining.
To survive, organizations necessarily develop a shared community and also reward individuals, whether they find new cures or found new cultures. The survival of organizations through culture and individual effort is, in fact, one underlying reason that bullying is wrong on its face. It’s also one reason that the idea of a perfect society—although periodically that crops up, either from archetypal longings for a peaceful place or from a deep desire to assume the role of godhead--isn’t workable. What bullying and the desire for perfection promote instead, sooner or later, is sadism, a cult mentality, and human slavery. Human civilization has been there and done that--many times.
The collective human psyche left the Garden long ago. The question isn’t any longer whether human beings know that good differs from evil. The question seems to be whether human beings will be able to live their lives simultaneously together and in their individual ways to maintain not just civility, but even perhaps civilization as we know it.
Linda Chalmer Zemel teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College.
She also writes the Buffalo Books column.
Contact Linda at email@example.com.
Please note: The Buffalo Alternative Medicine Examiner does not diagnose or treat illness. Opinions in this column are solely those of the author. For information about personal wellness, contact your health practitioner.