The Crown of Individuality IV

Individuality is the only real life. It is breathing the ozone of mental, moral, spiritual freedom. Nature made the countless thousands of flowers, trees, birds and animals without permitting two to be precisely alike. She stamped them with—individuality. She did it in a greater way for man. Some people seem to spend most of their time—trying to soak off the stamp. They follow in the footsteps of the crowd, guided by their advice. They wear a uniform of opinion; suffer in the strait-jacket of silly convention, seek ever to keep in step with the line, and march in solid sameness along the comfortably paved road of other people’s thinking,—not their own.” ~ William George Jordan

True individuality is not defined by rebellion, neither does it coalesce around acquiescence. It is the perfect expression of your true nature, the noble and dignified inner you. True authority, as opposed to that which comes with a man-made title or degree, is a robe that you wear when you are being yourself.

Authority is a radiant quality that amplifies aspects of your true nature out into the world you center. It is generated on the inside and as such is an force that moves outward, mostly silently and invisibly, but loud as a trumpet or a lion’s roar when necessary.

Moving from a state where you do not know yourself and feel powerless is a simple, albeit not always easy, process. To begin with, you must know what true individuality means. William George Jordan offered a number of excellent starting points worth considering along the way:

“Individuality means stimulating all the flowers of our best nature and banishing one by one the weeds of our lower self. It means kingship over self and kinship with all humanity. It means self-knowledge, self-confidence, self-reliance, self-poise, self-control, self-conquest. It is the fullest expression of our highest self, as the most perfect rose most truly represents the bush from which it blossoms.

You are also wise to meditate briefly on what individuality isn’t. Reading through this brief passage from Mr. Jordan ought to be sufficient:

Eccentricity is not individuality—it is a warped, unnatural distortion, like a reflection from a concave or convex mirror. Hypocrisy is not individuality—a mask is never a face and no matter how close it be held to the skin it never becomes a real face. Conventionality is not individuality—it is the molding of all that is vital and original in us to conform to an average type. Affectation is not individuality—it is only pretentious display of qualities one has not in stock. Individuality permeates every thought, word and act of ours as a half grain of aniline will tinge a hogshead of water so that the microscope will detect the colouring matter in every drop. Individuality crowns every expression of itself, in every day of living, with the—crown of its own kingship.

Self-Reliance III

I am of the opinion that material prosperity must be accompanied by internal growth if there is to be true progress. One without the other gives the appearance of progress, but look closely and you see that what appears from the outside to be an old western town is nothing more than a movie set, a flimsy facsimile of the real thing.

Much attention, time and effort is expended in relation to the furtherance of material goals, often to the exclusion of that which would counterbalance it from an internal standpoint. Many hide behind the mantra of competition, busily occupying themselves with outwardly-focused strategies and tactics, while ignoring the inner opportunities for development. This has the effect of increasing self-confidence, but fails to develop the self-reliance that comes only as a result of inner refinement.

Man can develop his self-reliance by seeking constantly to surpass himself. We try too much to surpass others. If we seek ever to surpass ourselves, we are moving on a uniform line of progress, that gives a harmonious unifying to our growth in all its parts. Daniel Morrell, at one time President of the Cambria Rail Works, that employed 7,000 men and made a rail famed throughout the world, was asked the secret of the great success of the works. ‘We have no secret,’ he said, ‘but this,―we always try to beat our last batch of rails.’ Competition is good, but it has its danger side. There is a tendency to sacrifice real worth to mere appearance, to have seeming rather than reality. But the true competition is the competition of the individual with himself,―his present seeking to excel his past. This means real growth from within. Self-reliance develops it, and it develops self-reliance. Let the individual feel thus as to his own progress and possibilities, and he can almost create his life as he will. Let him never fall down in despair at dangers and sorrows at a distance; they may be harmless, like Bunyan’s stone lions, when he nears them.” ~ William George Jordan

Self-Reliance II

Your apprenticeship to life provides you with the opportunity to discover your weaknesses and overcome them before the stakes are raised. It matters not if your apprenticeship begins at 15 or 50, for life is merciful to those who yield to its fortifying spirit.

Overcoming weaknesses does much more than simply fill in weak spots. In fact, every weakness you overcome permits a great alignment of your body, mind and heart. When you are out of alignment, the power of your being cannot flow safely through you, a sad state that greatly limits your ability to realize your full potential. When you are in alignment, however, your energies are united and your effectiveness is multiplied.

William George Jordan tackled this subject much more adeptly than I ever could and I feel privileged to share his thoughts on the matter with you this morning:

Many of the alchemists of old felt that they lacked but one element; if they could obtain that one, they believed they could transmute the baser metals into pure gold. It is so in character. There are individuals with rare mental gifts, and delicate spiritual discernment who fail utterly in life because they lack the one element,―self-reliance. This would unite all their energies, and focus them into strength and power.

The man who is not self-reliant is weak, hesitating and doubting in all he does. He fears to take a decisive step, because he dreads failure, because he is waiting for someone to advise him or because he dare not act in accordance with his own best judgment. In his cowardice and his conceit he sees all his non-success due to others. He is ‘not appreciated,’ ‘not recognized,’ he is ‘kept down.’ He feels that in some subtle way ‘society is conspiring against him.’ He grows almost vain as he thinks that no one has had such poverty, such sorrow, such affliction, such failure as have come to him.

The man who is self-reliant seeks ever to discover and conquer the weakness within him that keeps him from the attainment of what he holds dearest; he seeks within himself the power to battle against all outside influences. He realizes that all the greatest men in history, in every phase of human effort, have been those who have had to fight against the odds of sickness, suffering, sorrow. To him, defeat is no more than passing through a tunnel is to a traveller,―he knows he must emerge again into the sunlight.

Those who have not yet come into their own are forever bemoaning their circumstances and blaming others for their inability to attain what they hold dearest. Those who have are not taken aback by the setbacks. They thrive under pressure. They relish challenge and they rise to the occasion, no matter how dark the hour or how unfavorable the odds.

Self-Reliance I

My uncle and I had a short discussion about the Bildungsroman the other day, a genre of novel that focuses on the moral and psychological development of its main character. It is what we might call a “coming of age story,” where the protagonist matures to find his place in society. Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister is the prototypical example of this genre as is its descendent Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. These stories provide useful guidelines and currents of inspiration for anyone who is desirous of coming into his own.

There are many forces at work which conspire to prevent the individual from realizing his full potential. These forces notwithstanding, there are many tendencies within the individual himself which, like weeds in a garden, lead to a tangled mess if handled improperly. Coming into one’s own is not a sure bet, for potential must be consistently and repeatedly translated into action, many times against all odds.

The character qualities of self-confidence and self-reliance can go a long way to overcoming the many obstacles to a complete transition from childhood to adulthood. Each one must live his own life and coming to that realization is paramount to successfully navigating the transition. William George Jordan provided an excellent framework for the importance and cultivation of self-reliance in the individual in his book “The Majesty of Calmness”:

Self-confidence, without self-reliance, is as useless as a cooking recipe,―without food. Self-confidence sees the possibilities of the individual; self-reliance realizes them. Self-confidence sees the angel in the unhewn
block of marble; self-reliance carves it out for himself.

The man who is self-reliant says ever: ‘No one can realize my possibilities for me, but me; no one can make me good or evil but myself.’ He works out his own salvation,―financially, socially, mentally, physically, and morally. Life is an individual problem that man must solve for himself. Nature accepts no vicarious sacrifice, no vicarious service. Nature never recognizes a proxy vote. She has nothing to do with middle-men,―she deals only with the individual. Nature is constantly seeking to show man that he is his own best friend, or his own worst enemy. Nature gives man the option on which he will be to himself.

All the athletic exercises in the world are of no value to the individual unless he compel those bars and dumb-bells to yield to him, in strength and muscle, the power for which he, himself, pays in time and effort. He can never develop his muscles by sending his valet to a gymnasium.

The medicine-chests of the world are powerless, in all the united efforts, to help the individual until he reach out and take for himself what is needed for his individual weakness.

All the religions of the world are but speculations in morals, mere theories of salvation, until the individual realize that he must save himself by relying on the law of truth, as he sees it, and living his life in harmony with it, as fully as he can. But religion is not a Pullman car, with soft-cushioned seats, where he has but to pay for his ticket,―and someone else does all the rest. In religion, as in all other great things, he is ever thrown back on his self-reliance. He should accept all helps, but,―he must live his own life. He should not feel that he is a mere passenger; he is the engineer, and the train is his life. We must rely on ourselves, live our own lives, or we merely drift through existence,―losing all that is best, all that is greatest, all that is divine.

All that others can do for us is to give us opportunity. We must ever be prepared for the opportunity when it comes, and to go after it and find it when it does not come, or that opportunity is to us,―nothing. Life is but a succession of opportunities. They are for good or evil,―as we make them.

We certainly need one another, but the individual must come to terms with his own participation if the synergies of the whole are to be realized in full. If the number of immature, self-centered and dependent adults outweigh those who have come into their own, who have embraced a magnanimous spirit of serve and who have grown into a state of self-reliance, a society, family, company or group is no longer tenable. The quality of the parts determines the integrity of the whole and unfortunately, there are no shortcuts.