A couple of friends and I were chatting yesterday. One, an artist, said it simply, something like, “We are alone. We only know our selves by ourselves.”

She had a point, and until a person realizes that, perhaps they don’t know who they are. Only you are you, only me, me. We aren’t an appendage; we are an entity.

This is particularly important in the formulation of a healthy personal identity. To star, we can’t fix our wagon to another person’s star. To differentiate, to autonomize, to individuate we must separate.

When I write I do that. I please myself and so I experience freedom, autonomy. So does my artist friend. When she paints she becomes a self-sustaining farm; she nourishes herself.

But in pleasing myself — and in her pleasing herself — we please a few others too. They find in our experience their experience too.

And therein lies the rub regarding individuation.

No one is merely an isolated spec, a disconnected bit, a complete island. We all are dependent, interdependent, connected. We are each one an army of other people  — we come from parents, share life with siblings, we are sustained by farmers, clothiers, doctors and employers. Each one of us is indeed a community; each person is actually a horde. Our DNA was borrowed, our personalities influenced, our behaviors conditioned, our lives sustained  —  by others.

Recently my artist friend taught an art class. She found it extremely fulfilling. She was who she was, the artist, but she was alive and filled with meaning and identity as she shared what she knew about art with others.

Who are you?

Yes, you are a particular, a specific, a distinct, a discreet. But you are more than that.

And you are also a colony, a neighborhood, an association, a world.

We only know ourselves alone.

We only know ourselves together.

Both are true.

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