At this point you have all figured out I have a thing for words. I am endlessly fascinated by the words we use, their history, and how some words greatly influence our thinking.
Lately, I have been thinking about what it means to be an individual.
I would like to take a moment to break the word down a bit first. The word finds its roots in Latin. The “in” part means not. “Dividuus” comes from the word “dividere” which means “to divide.” Putting this all together, we end up with “individuus” which essentially means not divided.
This word evolved into the medieval Latin “individualis” and ultimately morphed into our word individual.
While discovering some of this, I learned something else really interesting. The medieval Latin word individualis also split into the late Middle English word indivisible.
All of this is a very long way to get to the point that the words individual and indivisible mean something very similar. They both convey the concept that it cannot be divided.
What does all this mean for you and me? We often talk about compartmentalizing our lives. Our work life sits apart from our personal life. Maybe whatever spiritual path we choose stands apart from other parts of our lives. Perhaps we think of our hobbies as a separate part of our lives. For those of you who remember the TV show “Seinfeld,” you may recall George saying, “If she is allowed to infiltrate this world, then George Costanza, as you know him, ceases to exist!”
He believed his life with his friends stood apart from his life with his girlfriend and those worlds were about to collide. If we look at the root of being individual though, we realize this is utter nonsense.
Although I am a superintendent, this is not some separate part of me who is also a father, who is also a musician, who is also an athlete.
This is all part of who I am and is indivisible. As an individual, you are also indivisible.
I will not break down the etymology of the word community, but just take a look at the heart of the word and you find “unity.” A community can only be a community when they act with unity. The very nature of the word makes it impossible to have a divided community.
A true community is by definition indivisible, just like an individual. This concept is a critical part of what we try to teach our students as they become citizens who will preserve and protect democracy.
On a personal note, my oldest daughter became old enough to vote about a year ago. The very last thing I want is for her to think like I do. I have worked really hard as a parent to ensure she doesn’t. What I want is for her to think for herself and be able to express herself. What I hope to impart with her is just as an individual is undivided, democracy asks her to make her voice known.
My hope is that she thinks of herself as part of a community, and recognizes her voice becomes part of a whole, unified in its belief about the future. This is how an individual becomes part of a community.