America has always greatly valued individualism. Self-made women and men are applauded in our culture. “I Did It My Way,” could well be the anthem for American individualism. As important as autonomy and individual achievement are though, true wellness and wholeness is also equally dependent on the strength of the communities that surround and support all individuals.
This dynamic interplay between the role of the individual and the role of the community and how they both affect a person’s wellness is seen quite clearly in the annual rituals surrounding school graduation ceremonies that many of us attend this time of year. The individual achievement of the graduate is what is being honored and celebrated first and foremost at every graduation. The graduate has spent years doing the work necessary to meet the standards required for graduation and they have rightfully earned the praise of others as they walk across the stage, one by one, to receive their diploma, the symbol of their individual achievement.
At the same time as the individual graduate’s accomplishments are being celebrated at a graduation ceremony, the communal aspects of the graduate’s life are also being acknowledged and celebrated. Every graduation ceremony includes at least three primary communities whose support have made the graduate’s individual achievement possible. These three communities are the communities of family, friends and fellow students, and the academic community of the school itself–the teachers and administrators. As the graduate walks across the stage each of these important communities is feeling something different, but each knows that all three have played an important part in making that moment a reality. Each group can be proud of, and celebrate the vital role they have played in the life of the student. None of them could have supported the student and helped him or her to this point all on their own.
The Living Compass Wellness Initiative has a saying that captures all of this: We believe that individual wellness is an oxymoron. None of us can be fully well or whole simply by ourselves or through our own efforts. Our full wellness and wholeness must also be grounded in, and flow from, our spiritual and communal connections. No matter our age or stage of life, we are wise to nurture both the individual and communal aspects of our wellness. It’s not possible to do it alone.
The reflexive relationship that is evident at graduations between individual and communal wellness is something that applies to each of our lives. Perhaps graduation ceremonies can serve as reminders for all of us that our wellness is determined by both the individual choices we make and by the communities in which we live and love. Most approaches to wellness do a wonderful job of stressing the importance of individual choices in creating wellness. We are also wise to remember, as well, the essential role that family, friends, faith communities, work communities, and neighborhoods play in nurturing and creating our wellness.
So as we pause to celebrate the individual achievements of the all the graduates this time of year, let us also remember be sure to celebrate the loving communities that have made their individual achievements possible.