I used to be a big believer in the concept of individualism. As someone who is relatively independent, I chose to see my own nature as such—something that is of my own choosing, and something that was only moldable if I allowed it to be. I saw my own nature something that was changed and shaped by the things that I wanted it to be molded by. If human nature is one that is altered through the act of living, and I choose which acts I take part in during this life, it only made sense to me that I could have total and complete control over what my nature was as a person. Retrospectively, it is easy to see that this view is somewhat biased—for why would I want to take credit for some of the “less-holy” things that have made me the person that I am?
There was no sudden or striking experience that made me change my mind. I guess the more I experienced—that is, the more I lived life— the more I realized that my story and my character in that story is not some sort of predetermined journey. Nothing is ever completely set for me as a person. No trait, no outlook, and no opinion ever finds itself immune to contracting experience. I realized that wherever we go and whatever we do, we are not rugged and stark individuals, traversing unaffected from place to place, only to retain some sort of concrete idea that represents who we are as people. Rather, we change like the world does. We change with the world. Though day by day it may seem that we have total and complete control over the things that shape us—the things that harden us, make us more empathetic, more close- or open-minded, or the things that make us see the world in a different light—it is only when we look back on these “day by days” and realized that we have changed. The whole picture is difficult to see when we only contribute a few strokes per day.
What makes our potential as human beings remarkable is that we are composed of more than what we experience, in the sense that we are able to use what we have experienced in order to more fully become ourselves. Although we choose many of our experiences, we are not defined by a single one, and are not mere reflections of experience; rather, we can be seen as a conglomerate of reactions to the things that we go through and do. We are better than a troubled past, capable of repeating our greatest successes, and able to impact others’ life experiences in both ways that we never knew possible, and in ways that we will never become aware of.
It becomes apparent that we are not totally in control of how things will change us when we put ourselves out there and make contact with the world. Doing so only gives us more experience to draw from, improve, and become better people. Where we go, we leave pieces of ourselves and simultaneously pick some up from that same experience. Where we leave love, we will also find it—though oftentimes in altered forms. It is no coincidence that love comes back to us when we act with loving and eager hearts. My journey against individualism found that maybe one of the greatest blessings after all is that we cannot choose what our character will be susceptible to, and that the greatest things in life do not come from our exclusive experience as an individual, but in how that experience was shared with the ones that changed us after all.