Development of the Individual Potential
How do we make our lives meaningful? Many of us believe that we can make our lives meaningful by becoming part of a group, by joining a cause, by following others. This is a fallacy. We don’t make our lives meaningful by being a part of the group. We make our lives meaningful by contributing to the group, by advancing a cause.
Contributing to the group doesn’t mean just going along with the collective opinion. Contributing means using our unique talents and abilities to do something for the whole that no other unique individual can do. Contributing enhances the collective skills, provides for a need that is currently lacking, improves the collective’s existence by providing a benefit for all of its members. The contribution must be genuine in that only one particular individual can make it.
We cannot make genuine contributions to the whole unless we develop our individual skills and abilities. Unless we make our own lives meaningful, we cannot add to the meaning of the whole. We will not make our lives meaningful by subordinating ourselves and our wills to the collective; rather, we make our lives meaningful by developing our individual potential and, by extension, make the existence of the larger whole richer and more purposeful.
We are, in part, attracted to the collective identity because of a dissatisfaction with our own individual identities. We live an inner malaise — ennui — what the Buddha called dukkha. And we may look to our associations with others to provide what we are unwilling, or unable, to provide for ourselves. By doing so, we relinquish the responsibility for our thinking and our decision-making to others rather than confront the limitations that restrain us within.
To progress as a society, each one of us must discover, examine and challenge the limiting beliefs that we have about ourselves. Whether we realize it or not, every negative or limiting belief about our self-worth comes from outside, from the assessment of another individual or group, usually because our own thoughts and actions have not met with their expectations. One or more segments of society have lent us the notion that we are somehow less valuable when separated from the standards of one or more collective identities.
We convince ourselves of the relatively low value of the individual, and develop such a negative opinion of our self-worth that we are afraid to even be alone with ourselves. We constantly bombard our senses with external stimulation. It is little wonder that the media, the internet and liquor stores thrive in modern times. They all feed on our need to escape from the ceaseless internal chatter that convinces us of the arbitrary inadequacy of the life situation that we have created.
We fear the dark. We fear the silence. We fear the unknown. But the unknown that we fear is not outside of ourselves. We fear what is within. We fear being alone with our thoughts, our self-assessments, our self-judgments. We fear just being.
Turning inside and confronting this fear, examining those beliefs that limit our actions and progress, is the only way for us to make our own individual lives meaningful and, thereby contribute meaning to the larger group. As Carl Gustav Jung said,
Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself.
We begin by taking complete responsibility for our lives. This means taking responsibility for our own thoughts, our own actions and the assessments of our own self-worth. We begin by changing inside. Self-worth and happiness do not come from what occurs around us or to us, they can only come from within. Each individual is unique and irreplaceable, having the same intrinsic worth as every other individual. All things are possible, but to realize our true individual potential, we need to accept personal responsibility for our own lives.
We need to live by our own standards, judge ourselves by our own criteria and act within our own sphere of control without regard for the collective’s approval. We need to develop our unique skills and abilities in our own way without the need for the affirmations of others. Krishnamurti said,
The individual is society.
By focusing on the needs of each unique individual, it is then possible to develop viable collections of individuals.