What is Individuality?

John Stuart Mill, British philosopher and political scientist in the 19th century, developed an interesting and thought-provoking theory on individuality that spurred the interests of many. I have always considered myself to be an individual, then after reading Chapter 3 of On Liberty, I wasn’t so sure. But, after much debate of who I am as a person, I am sticking with my original assessment: I am an individual.

Mill defines an individual as many things. He says that individuality is a privilege and that while personal spontaneity can be looked upon as a bad thing, being satisfied with the way society is today just isn’t good enough for some people. He also says rebellion can be portrayed as ignorance through the eyes of conformists. Rebelling, in order for self-expression to be fulfilled, can be an amazing thing and should not be taken away from any person. The only thing to remember when being an individual is to “not make [your]self a nuisance to other people”. Individuality must be limited so as to not harm others. On the opposite end, conformity, while seemingly so abundant in today’s society, is not to be confused with being part of society.

Hopefully Mill wasn’t conforming when he chose that haircut (yikes!)

I, like many other young women, wasn’t always an individual. When I stepped into Mars Middle School (Yes, I did go to a school named after a planet) on the first day of 7th grade, the last thing I was concerned about was being an individual. Individuality, at least by middle school standards, was considered taboo and often never found among the pre-pubescent walls that confined so many popularity-orientated children. I wanted to blend in as much as possible, and I did not care too much how I felt about it. But after a few years of forming my personal bubble, I realized that it just wasn’t worth it. Cowl-neck shirts and gauchos would no longer suffice for who I was. Also, I can’t believe cowl-necks and gauchos were ever a thing. Getting back to my point, I realized there were certain trends that I did like, even if they were popular among many of my peers. But following these trends didn’t make me individual. The person I was becoming made me an individual.

What makes me stand out from others are my personal beliefs and virtues that I have developed over the years. How I think, what I feel, what I believe in, and even what kind of music I listen to separates me from the crowd. Society has brought out my individuality, by proving that I can like things that other people like, but that does’t mean I’m not an individual. If some sort of conformity didn’t exist, society would not even be relevant. Being similar to those around you is not a bad thing at all, but rather gives you a sense of community and belonging. I wear leggings and have multiple pair of boots because I tell myself to like these things, not because society tell me to.

I might have this same pair…

So does this truly mean I am an individual, even by Mill’s standards? Am I satisfied with what society tells me to do? Nope. (Me: 1 Conformity: 0) Am I rebelling solely through ignorance? Nope. (Me: 2 Conformity: 0) Do I make myself a nuisance to other people by expressing myself? Nope. (Me: 3 Conformity: 0) I hope you’re starting to see my point here. Individuality is based upon prior experiences and through these experiences, we learn who we are as a person and who we want to become. Right now, I like the individual I am and I know that in my heart, nothing or no one can take away my values. Not even a grande pumpkin spice latte.

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One comment

  1. bkriegsm · November 23, 2014

    John stewart mill does not only argue that individualists should not harm other people or limit themselves as to not be a nuisance to society. He also argues that individuality brings benefits to society. I went through the same thing that you did in middle school. I just wanted to be a part of the crowd and fit in. I think it’s funny how we progress from being ignorant kids obsessed with following the latest trends to people that want to set the latest trends. Going back to Mill,I agree with him that trendsetting does have its benefits to society. Wether that be a new clothing style or new discoveries, trendsetting and individuality also teach people that its alright to be who you are. I liked reading about your story. It’s a sad truth that too many young kids learn the hard way, including myself.

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