In this world, we largely define ourselves in relationship and opposition to those people and things around us.
Individuality is sham – a misnomer that doesn’t do justice to the fact that we live in an hyper-connected world.
Don’t get me wrong – uniqueness does exist. I have my own unique characteristics, beliefs, abilities, opinions, and thoughts.
But it is impossible to be an individual in this world. There is nothing singular about life anymore. Perhaps some monks and hermits can truly say that they are individuals, but for those of us living in the concrete jungles, our individuality has been lost.
And that’s nothing to lament.
To be sure, it’s a good thing.
This all dawned on me this past weekend, as I hopped on the metro and travelled out to the ‘burbs to see a dress rehearsal for a fine production of Arthur Miller’s Enemy of the People. It’s being put on by the large Jewish theatre company here in Montreal. I live in an almost entirely French neighbourhood on the French side of town. Thus, my walk from my apartment to the metro was surrounded by the usually Frenchness of this locale.
A half hour later, as I got off the metro, I entered a different world. It looked a bit like North York in Toronto. Kate remarked that it looked like Halifax. Funny how suburbs all over the world look exactly the same. Ahh, suburbia. The Jewish theatre is, of course, located in a largely Jewish suburb, which meant that I was now in a much more familiar world – Hebrew adorned billboards, an Israeli flag flew outside the local JCC, and Mezuzah’s adorned the houses. I’m home!!!
Of course, it was nice to be in a place that I identify much more with than the Francophone neighbourhood in which I live (and love living in!) At the time, I felt that being in the Jewish neighbourhood was reflective of a huge part of my individuality. Here I was, one of the only Jews at my theatre school, going off to the Jewish theatre with school friends. But — upon further reflection — it occurs to me that it’s exactly the opposite of individuality. I may be unique (albeit slightly so) in my position at school, but that doesn’t make me individual in my being. This little journey across town reinforced my connection to a different group of people – it didn’t strengthen my individuality.
A few hours later, again on the metro, the hockey game had just finished and hundreds of Habs fans piled onto the metro cars. All of a sudden, I felt quite singular again. I made jokes about yelling out cheers in favour of the Leafs, then running for my life at the next stop. But in truth, I had this feeling of being an “individual” again – being surrounded by an entirely opposing culture. (On that note, anyone who doesn’t understand the diametrically opposing forces of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens should educate themselves. Read: Dave Vaisberg, you can’t be a fan of both teams!) But as I’ve thought about this seemingly innocuous event, it paralleled my theatre experience… my status as a leafs fan is not part of my individuality, it’s part of my connection to a much larger institution.
An intriguing revelation to have. I’m still not entirely sure it can be said with 100% certainty (can anything?), but I challenge others to come up with examples of true individuality.