Ted Cleaver

Tag: individuality

A Balanced Life

Every individual has the innate desire to express his or her individualism. This is a constant dialogue between uniqueness and conformity. We want to be individuals, and yet we need to be part of a group.

Conformity is easy. Copy fashion trends, follow and discuss relevant news, watch the right movies, and there you have it. To varying degrees, we adopt and internalize the rules and cultural taste associated with the group(s) we belong to or wish to be part of. We achieve conformity through consumption of cultural artifacts. Be it the way we drape our scarfs or our opinions on the world’s most recent crisis, reproduced from the news we consume; all these are expressions of an already existing external culture. So does picking and choosing of already existing culture, according to our personal preferences, make us individual?

Hajo de Reijger

Uniqueness is hard. To be unique you have to create. Every individual has the drive to create something unique, but there is a challenge here. Especially in light of the explosion of information around us, and easy access to it, it is hard to create something unique. Plus it requires time, time which we generally don’t have. For every piece of information that we consume, how much news do we make? For every movie that we watch, how many times do we share our personal stories with others? For every book that we read, how many birthday cards do we write? For every song that we listen to, how often do we beat our own rhythm?

Picture a balanced life as a life where for every second we stare at a screen, we should enjoy a second in nature or in good company. For every tidbit of celebrity gossip we are tricked into picking up, we sit down with our neighbors and talk about our families over a home-cooked dinner. Picture a balanced life as one where we aim to reduce the excessive intake, adoption and reproduction of external culture, and try to focus more on our own – and each other’s – uniqueness and creative force.

Picture a balanced life as one where bumping into a stranger does not end in small talk about the weather and recent news items, but opens the door to an inspiring conversation about individual passions and personal stories.

I like to write. Next time I see someone in a park with a sketchbook, I’ll sit down next to them and ask them to show me what they’re drawing.



We live in an individualistic society. Surprisingly, an overwhelming amount of individual traits, from life trajectories to consumer preferences, can be predicted based on upbringing or your postal code, respectively. No matter how complex our lives are, the rules governing social reproduction are exasperatingly pervasive. Judges I, because I prefer eccentrics to uniforms. Here are some thoughts on individuality versus conformity.

Georg Simmel distinguishes subjective and objective culture. Everything subjective stem from your internal creative capacity. Whatever it is, whatever you call it, it is there, and it is what makes you a unique individual. Objective culture is just about everything else. Through the rise of cities people are in contact with each other much more frequently and much more superficially. Our senses are bombarded with an unmanageable volume of information every day, a situation which has been exasperated with the rise of multi-media. Fashion trends, memes, viral videos and must-have gadgets are all part of a continuum that suggests, if not dictates, how you should express your individuality. This is obviously entirely paradoxical. What’s more, at the point you create something as an individual, it immediately becomes part of the range of “objective” influences on other individuals. Simmel made a passionate plea for subjective creativity.

Moreover, he associated the individual’s needs for conformity and individuality with time vectors. Our biography is in charge of belonging. Memories of our histories and personal past grow every second. They negatively influence our ability to come up with something different and new. In contrast with history, there is teleology. We cannot know the future, but we know there is a future point in time that we are moving towards. Asserting how we want to stand out once we get there is an individual expression. To be honest, the time vector part of Simmel’s teachings is not one I spent a lot of time on. Nonetheless, combining it with the distinction between subjective and objective culture, and you can derive a beautiful proposition. What will you leave behind that is truly unique to you? Next question, how would you go about creating something unique? The proposition is thus, achieving self-realization in the future is a creative process of adding to objective culture, not consuming it.


Ipatch will be continued tomorrow.