I have a friend named Dave. He calls himself an individualist. He was born in the United States, but he does not consider himself a member of any nation, race or imagined community of any kind. When people ask him where he is from, he points to a world map and says “there!”.
As such, Dave treats you like an individual. He does not stereotype, because he knows that people vary within groups, and that anyway he does not know if something someone else says about a group of people is necessarily true. He has met many people from many cultures; he has met tall people, short people, smart people, stupid people, fat people, black people, hairy people and beautiful people; he wants to learn about all of them.
Dave is interested in learning about what is different about all of us, and also what is similar about us. George Carlin puts it well: “That’s all the media and the politicians are ever talking about, the things that separate us. Things that make us different from one another…. But I also like to know that I can come back to these little things we have in common.” So does Dave. It is good to know that all humans are very much the same in many ways, and in all the important ways. Any differences among us are no reason to deny someone his or her humanity.
He loves his family and friends. He does not love anybody he does not know, inasmuch as he can sympathise with anyone. Dave considers everyone in the world equally worthy of love, respect, kindness, dignity and charity. It bothers him just as much to know that 100 Ugandans died in a plane crash as to know that 100 Canadians, Australian soldiers or Andean farmers did.
He loves the NHL, the World Cup and the Olympics, but not because he is rooting for any one team. It seems strange to root for one country all one’s life. How do you know where is best if you have not lived everywhere? He also does not feel proud of any team, because he thinks pride should come from one’s own accomplishments, and not those from accident of birth. He volunteered for the Olympics in Vancouver because he wanted to be around people from every country. It is amazing what you can learn from people from other countries.
He doesn’t think he’s better than anybody else, because if we are all individuals with the same capacity for joy and pain we are of equal worth. Dave cares how you are as an individual and does not judge you for which group you belong to. He assumes you do not conform to anything he thinks he knows about your group until he gets to know you. Dave does not get offended when someone insults a group he belongs to. He does not really understand what it is like to get offended on behalf of a group. Surely, he reasons, it is not groups, or ideas, that need protecting, but individuals.
Dave is happy and he thinks all individuals should be too. He hopes to meet you one day and learn how you are different. He hopes you are an individual too.