The Myth of the Individual…

A great article from Slate about how individualism has both infiltrated our society (surprise!) and about how the creative process demands collaboration.  Whereas modern psychology has focused on the individual, a movement is afoot that argues that relationships shape, “our experience, our character, even our biology.”

Emotions, Vaughan asserts, are “peopled” from the start. This dynamic turns out to play a critical role in the development of neural circuits that shape not only interaction, but autonomy too. In other words, the way we experience ourselves is inextricably linked to the way we experience others—so much so that, on close view, it’s hard to draw a concrete distinction between the other and the self.

I find the spiritual ramifications enormous, and think of terms like “unity” (which shows up once or twice in the N.T.), which demands at least two people.  One person cannot be unified; he or she must be in relationship.  I wonder if some of our modern psychology is rediscovering some ancient ways of thinking.

It’s not an accident that this new work is ascendant at a time when the Western world no longer identifies itself in opposition to collectivism, and where the Internet and social media have offered an obvious metaphor for webs of connections. “We’re ready for a Copernican revolution in psychology,” Cacioppo says. If it comes, the era of the self will yield to something that may be much more interesting.

Either way, this change in thinking has the potential to hugely impact our culture and the way we view ourselves (plural…or singular?).  “We’re ready for a Copernican revolution in psychology.”  I think the metaphor is perfect: rather than the earth being the center of the universe, Copernicus discovered that the earth revolves around the sun.  Consequently, rather than the individual being the center of the universe…you can fill in from there.

From experience, I find this to be true: I define myself most truly by my relationships: father, husband, son, brother, etc.  Even vocationally, I am a teacher, which inherently stresses a relationship.  Without the students I would cease to teach, without the wife or daughter or sister or brother I would cease to be many things: then, who would I be?  I would have no way of knowing who I was without my relationship to some other person.

I’m most reminded of Jesus’ words in the book of John: “I pray also for those who will believe in me…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

Interesting, with the field of modern psychology finding that we are more dependent on others than previously thought.  Even more interesting, the Slate article asserts that creative collaboration can move two (or more) talented individuals into realms of discovery, brilliance, innovation, and creativity when working together.  I’ll leave off any quotes from Genesis 1, but I believe psychology is discovering more of how we work as people, and that we inherently made in the image of a relational, unified Creator God.

Food for thought as you begin your next creative endeavor (I know I’ll be running more writing ideas by my beautiful wife) or as you sit down to dinner with those who define you most deeply.

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