Growing up, I was different. Not only was I different, but also I was so damn frustrated that nobody understood that I was different. I grew up in Los Angeles, a city ruled by sports media, the general understanding that all kids have to play on sports teams, elementary school sports teams, middle school sports teams, high school sports teams, and just about every other extracurricular league available to mankind. And from a very young age, both of my parents, my sister, and all of my friends instilled in me, that playing on every single sports team is the socially acceptable thing to do. Let me tell you, I played on just about every little league baseball team, mighty-mite football team, and rec-center basketball team around. I hated it. I absolutely hated it.
I, as an individual, always wanted something different for myself. More than anything else, I wanted to play music. I was born with a neurological phenomenon, and what i consider a blessing, known as Chromesthesia. With Chromesthesia, I hear sounds and automatically and unintentionally experience the colors that my brain associates with them. And for me, not only did I find sports boring and mundane, but also in addition to the complete passion and love I have for music, the experience I obtained from playing music was surreal, relaxing, and quite literally, mind-blowing.
I don’t come from a musical family at all. My mom has the vocal chords of a stork, my Ivy-League sister can’t figure out how to pick up a guitar, and my father, no matter how hard he tries, can’t figure out how to hit the head of a drum. I, on the other hand, found a complete solace in my neighbor’s old guitar, a 1978 Ovation Balladeer, and it felt completely right in my hands.
My parents never quite understood my desire for an artistic outlet, especially in combination with my Chromesthesia. I begged my parents every day to buy me a guitar. It didn’t have to be a nice one. It just needed to be something I could play all the time and call my own. For years they told me no. My mom would say, “Maybe for the holidays, Benjamin…Maybe for your birthday, Benjamin…Maybe next year, Benjamin…You don’t have time with all of your sports practices, Benjamin…” My parents just wouldn’t budge. Until one day, I threw a complete fit, refusing to go to basketball practice and locking myself in my room… for hours. In my eyes, my parents were suppressing my individuality. I didn’t want to play sports. I didn’t want to go run around and tire myself out from boredom. I just wasn’t that sports-minded kid that my parents wanted me to be. This was an expression of my individuality, acting on my opinions and my desires in complete fear of facing social stigma from both my family and my friends.
John Stewart Mill argues in Chapter 3 of his work On Liberty, that actions should be more limited than opinions. Mill also links the desires and impulses reflected in individuality with the development of character. He states, “One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam engine has character.” I wanted to ability to build my own character. I also wanted to be able to make my own decisions, and Mill argues that by doing this, and by not simply accepting customs without questions, I was accessing my complete human capacity. Mill also makes another incredible point about individuality and its function society. Though he argues that in early stages of society, it is possible that there could be too much individuality, he asserts that people become more valuable to themselves, and also more able to be valuable to others when they develop their individuality. Dissenters may discover new limits, goods, and discoveries, while keeping previous institutions alive and well.
So, after years of begging, and pleading, I finally got my very own guitar, a $169.00 Epiphone Les Paul Special II, on the compromise of trying to balance one sport with music lessons. For years after, I practiced, picked up new instruments in addition to the guitar including drums, bass, and piano, and became quite accomplished. By the time I reached the eighth grade I had played venues such as the Nokia Theatre L.A Live, in front of thousands of people, continued on to record tracks for Disney, and taught music to kids who wanted to learn.
I believe I fully embodied Mill’s views on the positive externalities of individuality when I started teaching kids how to play music. After I had developed my own skills, I began to teach kids so that they could explore music as well, but most importantly teach that music is an acceptable road to pursue as well as that developing their own individuality is completely acceptable as well. And after reading this article from pbs.org, I was truly proud of my accomplishments with music. It’s a huge plus to have been where I’ve been musically, but It mattered greatly to me that I was giving other kids, who may have been going through the same individuality struggle, with a source for their creativity and passion for music.