- Education and Science
No Man Is an Island
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.