Individuality and Solidarity without Individualism

Photo by Étienne Godiard on Unsplash

Millennial Catholic Ellen Koneck writes:

It’s easy to confuse individuality with individualism—but if you’ve got a minute and you don’t mind, I’d like to strongly insist on the difference.

Individuality, last month’s theme on Wit & Delight, is a gift: it’s all about the unique presence and perspective each person brings to the world. Your capacities and curiosities, your skills and interests; the shape of your soul, the sound of your sigh, the signature slant of your handwriting. It’s a celebration of the utterly unrepeatable expression of your specific existence. And frankly, it matters little whether you believe that the expression is reincarnated or brand new; discovered or created; nurtured or natured (or both)—because the point stands: you are a singular instance of being-in-the-world, and that’s extremely rad.

Individualism, on the other hand, is a social theory that emphasizes the importance of independence over dependence or even interdependence. There are many strains of individualism, and many effects and outcomes that stem from this social theory—more than I can unpack here. The fact of the matter is, many people in modern, Western cultures (and elsewhere, of course), have internalized a consequence of individualism that sees, even subconsciously, dependence on others as weakness. Intentionally or not, we seem to believe that freedom is freedom from, rather than freedom for. Freedom from the needs of others, rather than freedom for meeting the needs of others (and having our needs met). But we’re most free when we’re free to give and receive: I have something unique to benefit and serve you, and you have something unique to benefit and serve others. If this sounds like love, that’s because it is. And it’s also the basis of community….

My way of being in the world, my individuality and identity, impact others, for better or for worse. And even though I haven’t left my house in goodness-knows-how-long, the individual choices, actions, and ideas of others have a direct impact on my world—on my loved ones, on our country.

It seems that 2020 has solidarity in the spotlight. Our interconnection, our dependence on each other, has never been clearer. For many of us, never before have the questions solidarity asks felt more urgent: What do we owe to each other? How are we bound to each other?  

But it’s not just the happy realization of our interconnection with each other that has made solidarity front and center this year. The ways we’ve failed to live in solidarity with our fellow humans has been front and center, too…