Unique vs. Individual
I love watching my children celebrate their uniqueness.
My oldest astounds me with the fantastic images and worlds that exist within her head. Fortunately, her mind also grasps grammatical constructs and the foundations of coherent writing that allow her to translate the images in her head to a format that can be well understood by those of us who cannot see what she sees. I always anxiously await the opportunity to read her latest short story or book chapter.
Meanwhile, my middle child has the ability to absorb and process information without even trying. She rarely struggles to learn anything new, and any test of her knowledge brings her great satisfaction. She also has a creative side and quickly masters nearly any type of sewing technique she attempts.
Then there is my son. As the youngest, he is still discovering his unique talents and abilities, but his relational side has always been very obvious. His energy comes from serving and interacting with others, and his mind works best when he is able to take concepts and turn them into action, ministering to and serving those around him in a way that beautifully glorifies God.
As a mom, it is one of my greatest joys to encourage these three precious children in developing their unique personalities. I want them to learn how to be themselves with joy and pride. I desire for them to stand out and be independent as they proceed through life.
Our entire culture has been built on the work of those who have dared to stand independently and work hard to accomplish what they set out to do. From the earliest days of our nation, new Americans felt a brand new freedom to make their own way. They did not have to be roped into the same occupation that had defined their family for generations. They did not have to be limited to a certain land or a restricted social status. They were free to live their own lives in their own way. We remember these independent, brave souls as the explorers, pioneers, inventors, fighters, and builders who have since became our beloved heroes. Even our own freedom to homeschool exists because the generation before us was willing to boldly step out and fight for that freedom, even if they fought alone.
Yet, something went wrong. As we learned about our heroes standing, fighting, and working alone out of necessity, we began to idealize the concept of individualism. Instead of standing alone only when necessary, we began to prefer that option. In the process, we taught our children that independent uniqueness is synonymous with individualism.
But they are not synonymous. One is beautiful while the other is destructive.
Individualism robs us of community.
Christians have a deep heritage – a mandate, even – of community. When we strike out on our own, we forget that we need one another. We were made for one another. Yes, we are unique and have our own gifts, talents, abilities, strengths, and contributions. Yes, we need to think outside the box and refuse to be conformed to this world. But, we need to do it together.
If I am not careful, I will encourage my children to develop their unique skills and talents according to the cultural norm of individualism without even contemplating how that will prevent them from learning how to live in community.
Individualism makes us poor co-workers. Whether it is in the work force, the church, or the family, an individualistic mindset that robs us of community also robs us of the ability to work together. As I help my children grow in their uniqueness, I can all too easily also encourage them in a mindset that leads them to believe they do not need help. They do not need to work together with others. They do not need teaching or training or further development. They can do it better on their own.
Individualism makes us poor employees. With an individualistic mindset, our goals change from using our strengths to honor God in all we do to doing what makes us happy. When it is all about going through doors that make us happy, we find we cannot submit to authority or work well under others. We refuse to learn or follow instructions because we know best. So, what is the only solution? Be our own boss. Build our own business. Choose to never have to work for anyone else or submit to anyone else’s authority. We teach our children that this is a good thing and to never settle for anything less.
Oh, how much I want my children to excel! I want them to be proud of their uniqueness and bold in their passions. I want them to have the ability to lead. But, I also want them to know the importance of community, working well with others, and submitting to the authority of Christ through the earthly authorities He places them under.
My friends, may we raise children who are unique, bold, and independent – but never individualistic.