Bringing Dead Philosophers to Life 2.0 (Individuality)
November 21st, 2022

"One must have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star" (Z Pro.5).  Nichestche’s view on individuality appears fascinating as it emphasizes the necessity for the state of “chaos in oneself,” a condition when one rejects outside influence and cultivates their multiplicity. Although listening to one’s inner will is crucial, we can not remain in solitude completely as we learn our language and culture from interacting with others. Since one can never be certain when to behave independently, we often experience a continual dance back and forth between connectedness with others and separation. Such entanglement fosters our growth and helps us better understand ourselves.

“Of three metamorphoses I tell you: how the spirit becomes a camel; and the camel, a lion; and the lion, finally, a child.” (Z I.1) In Zarathustra’s speech, the three metamorphoses phases define a man’s growth over time. One first learns to stay uniform with others and carry the knowledge they absorb with them. During this first phase, one constantly concerns about belonging to the broader society and imitates others. In the second phase, one starts to develop critical thinking and follow their will over societal norms. The man here becomes a rebellious lion who questions all the established social constructs and maximizes self-interest. In the end, in the last phase, one becomes a child who discovers their identity and builds confidence around it, no longer swayed by other people’s opinions. Becoming a child makes one humble and marks a new beginning.

Concerning the first phase, when one becomes a camel seeking uniformity, Zarathustra uses the examples of soldiers and education to illustrate the commonality of conformity with the social norm. “I see many soldiers … ‘Uniform’one calls what they wear: would that what it conceals is were not uniform.” (Z I.10) Zarathustra observes that the soldiers choose to prioritize fitting in with others in the group over their individual characteristics. Similarly, he describes education as “something of which they are proud … it distinguishes them from goatherds. That is why they do not like to hear the word ‘contempt’ applied to them.” (Z Pro.5) Zarathustra implies here that people are often proud of their education since it makes them have something to follow and do not need to think outside the box. These two ideas closely explain why uniformity is a comfort zone for most people and remains the first phase of metamorphoses.

Conformity with societal norms relieves one’s pressure of critical thinking or demonstrating characteristics. Despite Zarathustra’s negative view of uniformity, the first stage is an important foundation for learning languages, rules, and knowledge. Everyone is born as a blank sheet, and no one is born to be a skilled individual. We all require guidance and input to cultivate our character. Conforming and learning from external beings, either teachers, officers, or books, broadens our perspectives and develops our judgment to form our thoughts. Thus, conforming and learning from others is a prerequisite for the appearance of inner character. Zarathustra might be antagonistic toward one’s continual choice of staying uniform after developing an inner will instead of the notion regarding conformity as a whole.

After the camel, comes the lion. In the second phase, according to Zarathustra, one starts listening to their inner will and stops being dependent on external standards. Zarathustra brings out the idea of warriors. In contrast to the soldiers, the warriors “love peace as a means to new wars - and the short peace more than the long.” (Z I.10) Once getting the prerequisite of building one’s character, instead of continuing to stay in uniformity like soldiers, one should stand aside from their comfort zones and learn to judge things critically. One should not behave as someone "with fifty blotches painted on your faces and limbs you were sitting there" (Z II. 14) and enjoys "fifty mirrors around you to flatter and echo your color display." (Z II. 14) Zarathustra mocks  the pride the educated individuals entitled to themselves and being too comfortable sticking to the textbook knowledge while ignoring their inner callings. He also highlights the idea that “everything deserves to perish.” (Z II. 14) No principle will be applicable forever, but an adaptable lion willing to separate itself from the norms and stand up to inner callings will.

Finally, after connecting with others and undergoing a separation, one becomes a child who is experienced with the world and capable of constructive thinking. However, the child might be confused about balancing conformity and solitude. “You must wish to consume yourself in your own flame: how could you wish to become new unless you had first become ashes!” (Z I.17) Zarathustra illustrates here that the preparation for new growth is always accompanied by confusion and saying farewell to the old ones. To begin something new, one must give up something old, which can be old dogma or bias. Therefore, the child here represents one’s readiness to begin another phase of new life, another cycle of conformity and separation.

The three metamorphoses summarize one’s growth cycle and highlight the importance of lingering between connectedness and solitude. Zarathustra’s lesson teaches one that they ought to constantly shift their identity between soldiers and warriors and “live your (one’s) life of obedience and war.” (Z I.10) My growth also resembles this pattern. Traveling from metropolitan Shanghai to the woods of Maine during my high school years helped me rediscover the meaning of life and grow a sense of appreciation toward nature.

Growing up in Shanghai, an international city with fast-paced lifestyles and modern technology. Wearing the same clothes every day and always hustling to different places, people in Shanghai are robots, behaving uniformly with the common goal of making money. In addition, Chinese education teaches students to obey rules and always heavily criticizes the ones who prioritize their curiosity over social norms. Living under such conditions, I, like many other Chinese students, value conformity over individual thinking and constantly worry about whether I can become a qualified contributor to society in the future. At the time, my life was full of pressure and competition, like a camel being overloaded.

To further compete with my Chinese peers, I pursued my high school education in the United States. Sitting in the classroom of a foreign country, I surprisingly discovered that Chinese education had provided me an advantage in its forced conformity-based education, especially in Mathematics. As a Sophomore, I could sit in Calculus class with Juniors and Seniors while achieving a better understanding than most of the class.

Later, intending to get into a good college in mind, I chose to stand aside from my comfort zones and attend a semester program in Maine called Chewonki during my junior year in high school. The school was located in the woods, and students could not use their phones throughout the semester. Giving up technology is a huge challenge for me as I grow up in a tech-heavy city. My daily routine started with waking up at 5 am in the dark and going to the farm to feed pigs. Many times while doing chores, when I saw the sun slowly rises above the horizon, I could not help but praise the beauty of nature and the simplicity of life at Chewonki. The lifestyle there was simple, relaxing, and slow, a sharp contrast to Shanghai. The school also provided experiences such as solo trips letting students stay in the woods alone for 48 hours. During the solo trip, I gained unprecedented serendipity and learned to listen to my inner wills. Closing my eyes and sitting alone next to a stream, I started seeing memories in my brain as if I were watching a documentary of my entire childhood growth. In the dark, during solitude, I wrote poems and songs to celebrate such moments. However, this time, I was not doing so to complete obligations but for my interest. Like a lion, I come to a place drastically different from my hometown and discover a sense of new peace.

The experience provided by Chewonki made me realize the importance of solitude. Like a child, I have gained unprecedented appreciation toward nature and, more importantly, toward myself, toward my individual thinking. I abandon my past habit of constantly worrying about the future and placing more emphasis on the present since the present leads to the future. Incessant worrying will make one miss beauty in front of their eyes. With such realization and unique experience, I, fortunately, stand out among other Chinese applicants who solely pursue math and science and get into Bowdoin. For the next chapter, I plan the seed inside my soul of building an environmental therapy program (also known as Forest Bathing) in my city, where people can experience the power of solitude cultivated by mother nature. Through the process of achieving this goal, I know I will continue to dance back and forth between connectedness and separation (not only to the crowd but also to this goal sometimes), but I hope this dream will come true in the future.

Individuality is a continual dance back and forth between connectedness with others and separation. We can never be certain when to behave independently, but such entanglement fosters our growth and helps us better understand ourselves. Alternating between metropolitan Shanghai to the woods of Maine, I grew a new sense of appreciation toward both myself and nature, with a dream of building an environmental therapy program forever embedded deeply in my heart.

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