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No Man Is an Island

Updated on March 22, 2013

Do We Exist for Ourselves, or for a Greater Good

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee.” John Donne

For a long time that was probably one of the most powerful statements I had ever read. I later looked up the context in which this was written, and it was under the influence of epidemic typhus that John Donne wrote this passage. It was part of a larger work that he composed during his period of illness where he charted the course of his ailments the best way he knew how, by documenting them through writing. This particular piece was a part of his Meditation 17.

The disease more often than not proved fatal, so the work of which this famous quote is a part turned out to be conceptualizations from a man who was coming face to face with the question, will the bell next toll for me. The context in which this was written was personified by one’s own immortality and the possibility of death, but I have always tended to think of it as more apropos to life, for it always brought forth a question. What are the consequences that are being felt by others for my actions?

I certainly am not an island, nor should I pretend to believe that my actions will exist in an island like state where no one else will feel their effects and repercussions. To be aware of that, as well as the reasoning that we all are bound to the same reality and what I create in mine will affect how you live in yours, is I believe of great importance if we are to keep in the direction of succeeding at this story we call life. If one of us fails, in some way we all fail, if one man dies a piece of all of us dies, as gone is that one possibility to contribute into the existence that we all share.

I can recall a dozen or more instances where someone I knew took the time to step outside of their day and to really see who I was, the context of the situation we were in, and attempted to help improve the person that I was, or was to become. We all seem to at some point fall into schedules and follow the same pattern every day. I have to do this, I have to go here, I have to get this done and then I need to start this. But instead of those simply being items that you need check off a list, why not take them as opportunities to improve your pieces of reality at those moments in the best way you can.

For our day shouldn’t just belong to us, it should belong as well to all of those who will touch it along the way. And in turn the impression that I leave will carry over into the impression that someone is next willing to give. The ripple in the pond; try to imagine yourself as forever in that pond of humanity, with your every move being felt by others as you swim. And the question to ask as you tread, are you enabling those around you to sink, simply tread water or to really swim; to dive off the deck and do cannon balls off the diving board?

Over and over again I have had people shape me into who I am. Not just sit down at the potter’s wheel and do what they have always done, time after time, day after day and attempt to make the same pot that is sitting in replicate on their shelves. To really take the time to see who someone is and to do all that you can in that moment to help that person, or to make them better. Whatever that moment needs, to step in and deliver rather than watch it walk away and simply do what you have always done. The pots sitting on your shelves, what do they look like and have you always molded your experiences into the same outcome?

That inventory that you put on your shelves becomes a part of the foundation that we can all draw from. And to realize that, that everything you do or don’t do shapes the reality that we all share, is to realize that you are not on the island called self, but instead are on the continent called humanity. The impact that we make through our decisions and actions should be a point of focus on all of our conscience, for as participants, we are all subject to the outcome.


Your Island vs. Our Continent

Would you consider yourself more aligned with the island of self, or the continent of humanity?

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    • Clayton Emery profile image

      Clayton Emery 

      8 years ago from Washington, District of Columbia

      A "man is a social animal" kind of discussion that goes to the heart of "What does the individual owe to society, and what does society owe the individual?" Always fun to explore, but we'll never get a definitive answer. Or to explore your analogy, "Should we be allowed to cannonball off into the pool if we want to?" Interesting round of thoughts.

    • manatita44 profile image


      9 years ago from london

      Famous and inspirational prose. Thank you for using it so we can all gain something here. Great article.

    • CBartelmey profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Colorado, United States

      Epigramman, that made me smile - thank you.

    • epigramman profile image


      9 years ago

      .....lovely writer you are - deep, soulful, thoughtful and very inspiring - please keep writing and make us think and feel and ponder and wonder and debate - because you have that gift of being able to communicate and involve your lucky readers , well, like me - lake erie time ontario canada 10:39pm

    • CBartelmey profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Colorado, United States

      Billy, that means a lot - thank you. And I think publishing more could help; it has just turned out to be a busy time of year for me. I have been jotting down my thoughts so I do have a stash of subjects to cover once I perhaps have a bit more time. But anything you could from your end would be sincerely appreciated.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      9 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have no reason to write this other than the fact that I mean are a very good writer. You have a great writing voice and your sincerity shines through in your writing. We need to get you more followers and views. I will be working at doing just that.

      There was a time I didn't believe that I needed anyone else; that kind of thinking almost killed me. Now I realize that I am part of a bigger picture, a picture of love....and it's boring just loving me. :)

    • Winsome profile image


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi C,

      Just before I read this I watched a seriously overweight man with a work badge empty his tray at the exit of the fast food place where I eat occasionally and I thought, I should say hello to this man and find out something about him and maybe be a friend to him since it looks like he may not have many.

      I am naturally friendly to people, especially attractive or friendly people who make it so easy, but often I catch myself and say to myself that it is the ones hard to get to know that need it the most and I try to befriend them.

      Then again, who is to say that the ones who look like they have everything going for them are alone too--remember Richard Cory.

      Nice to meet you CB--hope to read more of your thoughts. =:)

    • CBartelmey profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Colorado, United States

      Alexander, you are welcome and for a long time I was careful about who I let in as well. Recently however I have been more open, and I don't know if that has been solely my doing, or if I have just been surrounded by some really great people lately and it simply just hasn’t come into question? Either way, I think it is of good determination to realize that everyone you encounter has the same foundations of thought, feeling and emotion, and that through your every encounter you are having an impact on all of those.

    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 

      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Oof, this is a hard one for me, but you said it well. I know that we are all connected and that we affect one another. In fact, I once told a coworker when we were talking about another coworker we despised, that that person also helped to shape us as individuals. He didn't like that at all!

      But I am also a loner, I have found peace in being away from people and although I keep my door unlocked (metaphorically), I am careful about who I let in. I am a bit naive and simplistic in my dealings with people so evil people find it easy to find fault with me or hurt me, so I don't let them in!

      Nevertheless, we are riding on this beautiful planet together. Thank you for reminding me of that today.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      We are All One, it is the "Law of One": All is connected. We are coming to a point in time when this becomes more easily understood.

      Beneath our preferences, our customs, our beliefs and such, we are all the same. The same exact energy runs through all our bodies, no matter if we are black or white, with round or slanted eyes. All of us are connected as we are all a part of the Source.

      I apreciate your Being. Cheers!

    • CBartelmey profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Colorado, United States

      Thank you and I agree. Of all the moments in my life, those are some of the ones that have held the greatest meaning, and I try to pass that along as often as I can.

    • Jewels profile image


      9 years ago from Australia

      Those moments when someone steps outside their day and truly sees me are treasures. And those moments when I've given a stranger a reason to feel a treasurer helps me remember my humanness.

      Great hub.

    • profile image

      Alanna Bartelmey 

      9 years ago

      I loved this article! Made for a very interesting read :) Great job sis!


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