I guess part of being American means idolizing the individual. Starting in infancy, there’s an unusual emphasis on being special. How is one different? Important? Smarter than? Better than? How does one stand out from the others?

I used to think the whole world valued individualism the way I was raised to until I learned more about Asian cultures. In China, for instance, community is king. Unusual behaviors or attitudes are squashed at an early age. Community is paramount. Each individual is valued for his or her contribution to the whole. Setting out on one’s own is turning one’s back on the whole, leaving the individual isolated and outcast.

Americans, on the other hand, endorse the entrepreneur. Americans support and encourage the creative thinker, the explorer, the trail blazer. We’re a nation of outsiders. We love an underdog who struggles to single-handedly overcome impossible challenges to eventual success and fortune.

It seems, however, that when it comes to this subject, the natural world tends to lean more towards the eastern way of thinking. Very rarely have I seen a lone wolf or spawning salmon take the road not taken and wind up better off than with their pack or school. I don’t think the isolated elephant sees himself as fortunate either.

Why do we?

What do we lose when we branch out to the beat of our own drum and leave the orchestra behind?

Maybe a beautiful a cappella, but there’s no harmonizing, no symphony, not even a lively jam.

Thoreau strongly advocates solitude. I’m not sure he’s right about absolutely everything….

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