The Myth of the Individual
~“…all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I came across this quote on the website of one of our partners Insight Development Group with whom we have a Restorative Justice Group. Powerful stuff. I participate and I have reflected on things I have long forgotten about but realize affect me every day. The group is an honest collection of beings concerned with being better people and making better communities…together…interrelated..invested in our “single garment of destiny”. When you reflect on harm through the lens of Restorative Justice you see how interrelated we are and how unless we figure this out together, as communities, we are just abject individuals floating through space in fear; angrily guarding what is ours, deluding ourselves with a corrupt understanding of responsibility and accountability…holding others, but not ourselves, to both.
To wit, these memes that are popular: “Everything you do is based on the choices you make. It’s not your parents, your past relationships, your job, the economy, the weather, an argument or your age that is to blame. You and only you are responsible for every decision and choice you make.” A tragic misunderstanding of “responsible” and “accountable” as it applies to our life choices. And: “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” The latter, attributed to Ronald Reagan, it is a siren call to the supremely independent conservative American spirit of “I built this on my own”, and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”……and if you crash on the rocks…too bad…your choices brought you there. As long as you can believe you have no “responsibility” in the human condition that puts someone on the rocks (or brings someone success) then you can strut like a peacock in your confidence at having no “responsibility” to the human condition that might bring us whole; help the less fortunate, help the returning offender, help the disabled, help the lost………..It allows, in the other extreme, the support of those who hoard their wealth, time, and talent rather than share for the good of the commons even as you struggle to make ends meet.
We are all responsible and when one does harm we hold them accountable… we are responsible as our inter-relatedness brings us to account for each other. We make choices and decisions based on the information we have at hand and our experiences and many have real shit in that department. If it makes you more powerful to shirk your responsibility to community and still expect the unyielding accountability of those who make poor decisions based on faulty information or horrific, neglected, abusive, narrow experiences or simply lack of experience…you also neglect those who are impacted by poor decisions of others; those who are harmed. When we look at our communities and participation in them through the lens of Restorative Justice we learn to bring peace to our communities through shared responsibility. Peace is not the just the absence of conflict. Peace is created through shared responsibility in communities to find solutions to harm. Community brings order. The individual is a myth and merely opens the door to government finding the solution to bring order.