Ultimately are we really the masters of our destiny? Are our decisions free from constraints? Free from influence? Are we alone in this world? Are we moving independently through society unbound by anyone and anything?
I ask these questions, because as I respond to them I am baffled, by my misplaced autonomy. Are my decisions ultimately my own? I am free from influence? Am I bound to anyone or anything? Is this what I want? Will this make me happy?
I know only what I know.
What I do know is, is within the most intimate moments of solitude and meditation I feel connected, that I find comfort in the knowledge that I am never alone, That I blindly make decisions in coordination others.
Am I alone in this construction? No, we are interconnected, continually making decisions in coherence with one another. We are fundamentally social beings.
There is an example I have heard a few times which recently resonated with me. One of the most intimate decisions we can ever face the choice to take one’s own life, to commit suicide. From what we see this decision is ours. From the basest point of view this choice is ours alone, intensely personal.
French sociologist, Emile Durkheim underwent a groundbreaking sociological study on suicide. He argued that suicide, this seemingly personal act was caused by social factors not individual ones. Observing that the rate of suicide varied with time and place, Durkeim looked for causes linked to factors other than emotional stress; he studied from the degree to which people feel integrated into the structures of society to their social surroundings. He argued that suicide rates affected by the different social contexts in which they emerge. (References :Anderson, M.L. and Taylor, H.F. (2009). Sociology: The Essentials. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth)
Research has consistently proven this. Within the small area of western Missouri about 50 persons commit suicide year after year for over 20 years.What is this telling us? Why are about 50 people killing themselves, every single year within this specific area? There are invisible strings compelling these people to end their lives. While yes they are faced with an intimate decision, there is another piece to puzzle? The matching numbers are revealing something greater.
I had struggled with body image for quite some time. Making sense of what I needed to look like or feel like at times left me confused. This struggle manipulated my relationship with beauty, food, appearances, control etc. At the height of this contortion, I questioned my validity in this world. Wearing a mask and letting my seemingly imperfect image dictate my identity. I felt isolated.
Frequently I felt that I was going crazy by torturing myself, but then I realized I was not alone. I felt comfort from someone I had never even met. Her poems allowed me to step outside of my head authorizing me to take a step back, and take a moment; a moment to analyze the cords which had subconsciously formed a strong hold on my heart. The strings I had latched on to and what they were telling me about myself. Layer after layer I peeled the roots of the virus which had threatened to take my life.
When I finally garnered up the courage to share my struggles, I was again surprisingly met with comfort, empowerment, and strength. This strength that was not nurtured by isolation, it was fortified by our unity.
Others just like me, were struggling. Others were internally grappling with the idea of who they needed to be. What they should like? And how that determined their worth.
I was not alone. We are not alone.
“… in the moments of our deepest isolation we’re holding invisible hands with others. When we could easily feel most cut off from the world, we’re actually holding hands with people we may never see.” Dr. Sam Richards.