The Human Continent
The fingertips of my reflection are cold, lifelessly cold. I have felt them while skimming my hands along the silvery stagnant surface of my bedroom mirror. I do not know why I repeat this action so often, letting the mirror’s shiny surface kiss my fingertips. Each time my efforts remain unrewarded, leaving me with an icy chill as I try to decipher the identity of the girl that stares unblinkingly back at me, but I continue to do it. I continue to touch, to feel, to gently trace the outlines of my own reflection hoping that I will somehow find something original enough to hold on to, but I never do. As much as I would love to tell myself that I am something purely original, a self creation, I know that I am not. I am just pieces, shiny little pieces of reflected silver welded into something useful. As John Donne once said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main,” and I am no different. I am not some spontaneously generated island, I am a part of something greater, and that greatness has created every part of me.
In America, our culture revolves around individualism. There is this “every man for himself” mentality that has slowly begun to infect our entire nation. I understand this thought process. The rapacious need to stand out, to become something original, infects my own logic, but I have never really asked myself why. Why do I have this overpowering desire to differentiate myself from the whole? What drives my quest for uniqueness?
Perhaps it is an inborn desire for independence. Everyone wants to be independent or self sustainable in some form or other. It is a reciprocal desire. Ideally, if I did not depend on anyone, then no one would depend on me. Thus, independence at its core is a twisted escape from all responsibility. This drive toward independence is both futile and incredibly destructive because total independence is simple impossible. Even the most fruitful islands are not self sustainable, and neither am I. I am inescapably dependent on both the environment and the individuals that surround me. Any logic that tells me otherwise is potentially dangerous because it destroys my responsibility to dedicate myself toward the good of the whole. If I were truly independent, I would have no reason or desire to commit myself to other beings because they would have no affect on me. My natural responsibility toward the human race as a whole would be extinguished because I would be under the sole influence of myself. To rephrase John Donne, the idea of individual humans as solitary, self-sustainable islands is highly impractical because we are each irreversibly conjoined with a greater whole, and this unity brings with it inevitable responsibilities which we can not escape from through false concepts of independence and pure individuality.
By eradicating the metaphor that links individual humans to islands, one is able to achieve a higher understanding of purpose and self responsibility. The human race in general can best be described as a continent. We are, or ideally should be, a cohesive unit of extremely intelligent life. Each individual aspect of the human continent builds on and influences the whole. It is a well know fact that the individual is solely a product of their environment and the experiences they have gone through, but does not this individual also contribute to the environment and experiences of others? This individual circle of influence is what binds the human race into a solidified continent as opposed to solitary islands. The environment creates the individual, and the combined efforts of individuals create the environment. Therefore, each individual has an inherent responsibility to uphold the standards of the environment they wish to create. The concept of individuality shifts from something originating in a sense of false independence towards a quality sought after to make a unique contribution toward the betterment of the whole that created the individual. This same theory applies to the way a country on a particular continent may adopt a higher standard of living to increase the worth of the entire continent.
When I look into my bedroom mirror, I understand that I am no independent being. I am no island. This world has created me. Without it I would be nothing, and with it I am everything. Every success I have is a contribution toward something bigger. It is a contribution toward the human race, the continent to which I am a part of. I have given myself to the cause of humanity because humanity has given itself to me. I know that if I want to make humanity beautiful, if I want to make this continent beautiful, then I must push myself to make individual contributions that will benefit the whole to shape an environment that will further shape me and future generations. After all, I am a piece of the continent, a part of the main, and I have an inborn responsibility to add a uniquely positive contribution to this unification that has made me who I am.