Well it is nearing the end of the first month of 2013. You might call me a cynic or a realist but I imagine there are a fair few people who are now reeling at the crushing failure at keeping their New Years’ resolutions. We’ve all done it; began a venture wholeheartedly convinced that we are leaving behind the one habit which, like the fired office assistant in denial, continues to ignore our dismissal. Or perhaps we have vowed that we are going to go running regularly, until such time as our lungs feel they are about to turn inside out in our very chest and we actually convince ourselves that we run the risk of dying and thus stop.
Some start this investment with humorous acknowledgement that they are highly likely to fail; others take it more to heart and deem it the one last chance to redeem their character. Either way the failure to keep it going can have a profound effect on our self esteem and belief in our selves. It reveals a frustration of not being the person we feel we ought to be.
Now I am writing not as a life coach or psychologist or any other professional who claims to have answers to the dilemmas of life. In fact I am someone who has invested a lot of valuable time chasing my tail about such things only to end up back at square one. But as someone who finally succeeded (so far) in giving up two very unshakeable habits, I can safely say the journey of success lies alongside the journey of failure. The mountains summit may not be reached in the first attempt, but the way up will surely become more and more familiar.
You may be wondering what on earth this has to do with the above title. I would ask you to bear with me on this one issue that I think is so important that I would advise not changing anything until we get to grips with being an “individual dividual.” Once we are settled in this frame of existence, we can then start to manipulate the things in our lives that we feel we must let go off or take up.
So what is an “individual dividual” besides being a confusing tongue twister? The word “individual” is associated with many buzz words doing the rounds in our culture related to autonomy and our basic rights as humans. It is a word embedded profoundly in our modern law. Individuality may be something we think we demand or champion but it is something that, in practice, we often wait for others to bestow upon us. It is the word that champions our ability to stand in our own right as people alongside, or even against others. You may think this is a complete description but this is really only half the story.
The Ubermensch figure imagined by Frederick Nietzsche is a being that is often misunderstood, misrepresented and mistaken. It has been one of the most touted philosophical models of the 20th Century through its accessibility and ease by which to mould it to our own world view sometimes with devastating consequences. It was not Nietzsche but his sister who supported Nazism and consequently moulded his philosophy into a perverted idea that suited Hitler’s ideals. Nietzsche himself detested anti-Semitism.
Dr Eva Cybulska, former psychiatrist and now independent scholar has gone to great lengths to diffuse the misunderstandings related to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch. Whilst I point out that this is not an essay about the Ubermensch, I would like to highlight a particularly interesting and vital point of hers that sits pivotal to my current thinking. Nietzsche says that his Ubermensch will be an individual. This is simple enough and, perhaps obvious; but that is only when we consider individuality that is bestowed externally. That is: individuality as viewed from the outside looking in. Cybulska says Nietzsche goes further to suggest that what lies at the heart of individuality is, very simply, following what it says on the tin. To be individual is to not be divisible. So whilst someone might be an individual i.e someone existing separately and in their own right as recognised by others, we also have to be individual i.e. someone who designates the parameters of their individuality. Individuality becomes then an action as opposed to a existent state. That is my understanding of it at least.
So the question should be: how is it possible that we can be divisible on a personal level? Physically it is not possible to be divided unless we undergo rather unwanted bodily trauma; but we do not have to look far to recognise the levels beyond the physical that we can become divided. Julian Baginnis book The Ego Trick is quite exhaustive with solid examples of how fragile we are as personalities. Our “me” is pretty much an illusion that is projected both by us, powered by those around us and affected deeply by the projections of other people’s “me”. To that end it is not a difficult exercise to work out how we as humans are often slain by the contradiction that is us. I provide but a few examples.
Perhaps the most prominent signs of personal divisibility sit within the doctrines of our cultures’ religion. The idea that we were made perfect and failed to keep the standard, torn between being hell bent and heaven bound is but one taste. Another is being subject to a God that appears to have its own identity crisis: wrathful, loving, vengeful, forgiving, mighty and vulnerable, father, son and ephemeral. One might be forgiven for suggesting that this is more a reflection of the human projection or construction of a god rather than an actual existing being: a reflection of the inner turmoil that exists in all of us.
Philosophy or theology aside, our behaviour day to day is suggestive of a single unit in turmoil about who or what they are. We have just celebrated a festival that, at its core, honours meekness, charity, poverty and goodwill. How? :by enslaving ourselves to the guidance of the retail giants as to what we need to overeat, entertain our children with and what jumpers/socks to dress our fathers in regardless of whether he needs socks or not. The main image of Christmas these days is of a friendly, rotund white bearded fellow first introduced to us through advertisements for Coca Cola. It is a beautifully subliminal illusion of a spiritually meditative time shaped and manipulated by the most spiritually empty factor in our lives: consumerism.
On the internet there is a wealth of opportunity to be someone else and lose the inhibitions we may posses with those we come into physical contact with. No longer are we subject to face to face etiquette permitting us to speak our minds to whoever without comeback. We get to communicate in a way we never would contemplate in the company of those we actually spend time with. Needless to say it is not surprise that there is a well used computer programmed called “Second Life” where you can exist as a completely different human.
We live in a culture where we make money for no other reason than to make money. Our bank balance is often our status or we, at least, dress and act in ways similar to those with large bank balances. I was always slightly fascinated about driving through somewhat run down areas of the inner cities, seeing houses unloved and yet outside them are parked high end BMWs or other such cars.
Of course we can also divide ourselves through our loyalties to ourselves, our families, wives, husbands, work, bosses. Our time becomes everybody else’s’ and not our own. Our future and aspirations become someone else’s’ or they have, at very best, been manipulated to please others as well as ourselves.
The above is not a moral rant. I can only write with authority on it because I personally have made some pretty spectacular blunders. Whilst individuality is something we crave and demand I risk offending by suggesting that the behaviour we exhibit is all a little too recurrent and common to be unnatural or against our nature. We are not solid isolated units. We are fluid, interacting, efferent and afferent beings. We are not and perhaps never will be individual in Nietzsche’s sense, not truly. What we can be though is a fluid, interacting, efferent and afferent being that chooses how it exists.
I would like to suggest that should we allow our individuality to become a quality or an action as well as an assumed existence, if it became something you do as well as something you are then success might loom. If we expect individuality to be something that is natural to us, something that is a birth right, then we risk becoming complacent about it and, at worst, failing to realise where we are not individual.
Success looms through the acceptance of what we are, how we effect things and how we are affected without judgement of ourselves by ourselves or by others. To be individual is to purposefully navigate from one action or circumstance to another for our own sake and for others around us. A ship that hoists its sails can either be a slave or master to the wind.
So I would suggest leaving all that guilt behind along with the failed New Years resolutions that caused it. New Years resolutions are investments in one aspect of the whole. It’s like going out and only buying one ingredient of a dish you wish to make. In no time you’ll find something else to focus on and you’re are split between two failures and distracted from the successes you achieve.
My suggestion, and it is merely a suggestion, is to concentrate on becoming an “individual dividual”. We are a beautifully constructed collection of atomic accidents and circumstances as solid as a pile of dust on a pavement, but with a strange ability to draw all these factors together to make us “us”. We have to be as realistic about our dividuality as much as we are about our individuality in order to maximise our use of the resources available to us. It is only after this has been achieved that we can more naturally avoid or give up the things that do not benefit us and magnetise ourselves to the things which do. It is only through embracing our fragility that we become strong. It is only through accepting our subjectivity that we become objective. It is only through embracing our dividuality that we can become truly individual.