Photo © Jenn Shallvey 2015

Photo © Jenn Shallvey 2015

Individuality and group are two ends of a spectrum. 

On one end we are the individual, guided by our personality, sense of self, ego or if more conscious, perhaps a deeper more soulful place. No matter the depth, our unique imprint on the world around us can be seen through our ways and actions.  Our voice, whether spoken, written or silent, is our voice, no one else’s. 

On the other end of the spectrum we are part of a group, many groups.  We are a member of a family, team, workplace, street, suburb, city, country. In these contexts, we are one of many, not just one.  We are empowered by the collective connection of the group. We experience a sense of belonging.

When we are being the individual we go through life asserting to all our individuality, uniqueness and specialness. We analyse our personalities, claim our idiosyncrasies, study our differences and focus on personal talents.  The quest is forever to stand out from the crowd, discover what makes us special.  Our need to feel unique is inherent in the way we live as humans. We are genetically designed from the same elements yet the makeup of the mix is different for each person.  As we grow others validate what makes us ‘special’. Combined with our own self reflection we in turn learn and confirm a sense of who we are amongst the world in which we live. 

Gone awry, excessive focus on individuality manifests as selfishness, insecurity, neediness, negative self talk - a downward spiral of ‘only me first’ with a sense of entitlement and dismissal of others.  Such a place can be seen in the examples of antisocial behaviour, harm of others, greed, abuse, self harm even. Individuality in this way cuts people off from others leading to isolation.

When we are being the group member we go through life trying to find out where we fit in, where we belong, what group feels right for us.  In a group we gain from the diversity and variety present in group dynamics. Amongst many we are exposed to multiple perspectives, opportunities to learn and expand our knowing. Groups offer us a platform for engagement and action. Together in numbers we can be more broadly impactful, create change and make a difference.  Depending on the group we can test out our ideas, thinking and beliefs to discern direction.  We are next to, not apart from others. We are in not out.  We can feel that we belong to something.

Gone awry, mis-formed, mismanaged or overly controlled groups can squash our power and sense of identity.    We are one in a crowd, unnoticed, blending in, under the radar.  We don’t make waves or even create a single ripple.  Fear of reprisal and lack of trust mean group think heads the pack into the lowest common denominator.  Decisions and actions taken from a dysfunctional group lead to dysfunctional outcomes for all.

If we play the game of back and forth between me and we it can get quite exhausting.  We focus on one end at the expense of the other or in this case others.  To reconcile this duality is to be in balance.  Balance is in the middle. In the middle we bring our individuality and uniqueness to the collective group. The collective group offers perspective and context and gains by adding and expanding from the input of many individuals.  Both is certainly better than either or.  A truly ideal outcome is then to preserve what makes each individual special and collectively harness these qualities for the better of all.

How do we get to the middle then?  With a magic ingredient,  a sense of humanity. Humanity is a big word, one that connotates much and elicits reactions.  In this context it is about remembering the human experience in all that we do, whether as an individual or a group.  On our own we can have an experience of humanity through our own humanness. Yet it is in the presence of others where we come alive and truly know ourselves as individuals. It is in this sense that words we can live by include our need to 'share humanity'.

Humanity is about connecting to the place within us that understands the shared experience as a human being.  This state is different than empathy or compassion.  Sharing humanity incorporates both yet builds from what we have in common at the most basic level of being and less about the emotional, psychological or physical outcomes.  For example we all breathe the same air, live on the same Earth, have 5 primary senses through which we encounter the world.  Each of us then exists in a place that is uniquely our own yet entirely affected and dependent on the way others also live and exist.

As individuals we bring richness to the lives of others when we share our humanity.  As groups we enable and lift up others through the sharing of our collective humanity. Sharing humanity is about actively seeking to relate to, understand and connect with others through our personal experience.  It is then about taking action with the consideration of both our own and others experience of this action.

The challenge is to connect to our sense of shared humanity and really feel it.  The challenge is to know this place within us authentically.  We then bring to our interactions with others a higher sense of how we can work together and be ourselves at the same time.  Sharing humanity is a way to balance and satisfy both our need to be individuals and belong to groups.