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Individualism and Being Expendable

Updated: Feb 22

A group of people with a girl in the center.

Recognizing Expendability in Fiction and Reality

Ever felt like you were just another nameless stormtrooper in the grand scheme of things? Whether it's in a movie or your own life, the feeling of being expendable can sting. This article explores the concept of expendability in fiction and its uncomfortable parallels to reality.

In the world of fiction, expendability is an established storytelling tool. Henchmen with generic names, nameless mooks, and countless background characters serve their purpose and then fade away. Their deaths hold little weight, their sacrifices merely footnotes in the hero's grand narrative, or an indication of a bigger threat, when that threat mows down a good guys' company of men.

These faceless lots lack the vital ingredient – continuity. Their stories end where they begin, within the confines of their single scene, and as such their importance remains, with little to no further extension. The hero, on the other hand, carries the weight of the plot on their shoulders, their journey weaving through the entire the story as a savior, often.

Expendability As a Feeling

Now, here's the unsettling part: Expendability isn't entirely confined to fiction. In the harsh reality of the world, we too can feel replaceable. At work, the possibility of layoffs remains as certain skills become outdated, and younger, sharper competitors emerge. Your job, once seemingly secure, can feel as if it's on borrowed time you might lose at any moment. The company, driven by profit and efficiency, might see you as just another cog in the machine, easily swapped out for a smoother-running one, no matter how much a salaryman you are.

But before we descend into existential despair, remember this: expendability is not inevitability. Just like a well-developed side character can steal the show, individuals in the real world can defy the label of "expendable". There are several ways to do this, which I will cover later on. However, should we not be aware of the potential within us to emerge beyond this sphere of irrelevancy that makes us feel so undermined by others -- this feeling of insignificance will resume. In some cases others, like narcissistic vampires, will actively make you feel undermined for their own gain.

Thus, expendability is both a concept and feelings others can exploit, as in the case of many of our emotions. Some people who practice opportunistic philosophies won't hesitate to seize every opportunity they get. And if it means making others be expendable in both feeling and practice for their goal to be attained -- they might as well do it regardless of the morality involved. Those who may use this word may ignore the fact that morality can stand in its way.

Recognizing expendability is about understanding the mechanisms at play and finding ways to rise above them in the name of our and others' worth. We may not be heroes with epic destinies, but each of us holds a unique story that to be heard, respected, and add value to people's lives. In our own ways, we are all protagonists in our own narratives, and our voices, however quiet, deserve to be heard.

For we can all be immortalized in the vast fabric of the past, by being recorded in the present, for the future to know us as more than just another, expendable human beings.

Building Your Stand in Life

The feeling of being replaceable can sting, whether it's in the fiercely-competitive world of dating, the competitive atmosphere of a soccer team or any competition for resource in general. In fiction, this sense of expendability manifests through characters who fail to prove their distinction, and thus, their relevancy, making their demise easily swallowed by the larger narrative, and outshined by the demise of more important characters.

In a sense this is true in real life as well because the deaths of more-known people will far likelier to be reported on the news than the deaths of more-ordinary folk that might as well die everyday globally.

It really seems that the logic of expendability works in real life in a similar way it works in fiction: If someone we are not taught to care about is discarded, we might as well overlook them even if we have the highest of empathy towards other human beings. The family/tribe bias also plays a role in this, as our close connections with others may matter to us more, than strangers whose death won't matter to us as much.

How can we, then, in our own messy reality, avoid becoming just another casualty to death's inevitable clutches?

Individuality, the antithesis of expendability, is our key to standing out. It's not about narcissism or attention-seeking. Instead, it's about establishing yourself as a distinct individual with distinct qualities. Since the Reverse Individuality Theory isn't likely to make you unique, here are ways to make you more distinctive, and thus, less replaceable:

  • Master your craft: Whether it's writing, coding, or playing the guitar, dedicate time to developing your skills beyond the average. Excellence speaks volumes, setting you apart from the replaceable masses. The higher your mastery is, the more irreplecable your value can get, reflecting your usefulness.

  • Leave your mark: Contributions, whether personal projects or professional, add texture to your life's narrative. They reveal your skills, and commitment, making you more than just another face in the crowd.

  • Forge meaningful connections: Building strong relationships foster a sense of belonging and value. When you're not just another nameless cog, but a cherished friend, colleague, or leader, your presence carries weight.

Characters we remember, many of them are villains, possess individuality. They have names, stories, and skills that set them apart from the nameless horde. The protagonist, with their defined purpose and unique talents, embodies this idea perfectly, for they are the driving force of the plot. By injecting our own lives with similar elements, we can become the protagonists of our own stories, as and such be our own driving force of our lives.

Recognition and value extend beyond mere survival or securing the next paycheck. It's about feeling seen, heard, and appreciated for who you truly are. It's about building a life where your contributions hold weight, your presence matters, and your story unfolds as something more than just a footnote in a long stream of such details.

Your path to individuality is personal. Some discover it through artistic pursuits, while others find their voice through community engagement or professional excellence. The key is to invest time and effort in something that resonates with you, something that allows you to showcase your unique skills and passions, making your place in this world, irreplaceable in the eyes of others, and not just objectively.

Individuality is not a one-time achievement, but a continuous journey towards self actualization. It's about constantly learning, growing, and contributing, adding new chapters to your story and reminding everyone around you that you are not just another face in the crowd.

Remember, the hero doesn't fight against faceless hordes; they face adversaries with names, motivations, and complexities. Become the hero of your own story, not just for yourself, but for those who will appreciate your unique contributions to the world.

Don't Be Just Another "Stormtrooper"! A Personal Example

But what if we could rewrite our own narratives, transforming from expendable extras to protagonists in our own lives? What if we don't need to simply be passive for some external force to validate you? What if a recognition of an external force, whether or not is achieved, can also be a product of your own self-development, instead of a result of a "what-if" scenario coming into fruition?

What if greater recognition is but a side-product of years of hard work on the very things we good at, and on the very qualities that define us in their dominance? Why must external validation matter as much, when it can logically be an outcome of a goal, not a goal itself? It is, after all, the very "henchmen" that strive to prove their worth to an external authority, but fail in it, proving their expendability. They fail in it because they failed in being competent enough as distinct individuals.

And you can't be expendable when your competence outwights your uselessness! Individuality is the key to claiming your place in the spotlight. It's not about outshining everyone else, but about cultivating skills, passions, and experiences that make you stand out.

Living in a country where English fluency is moderate, I made the conscious choice to learn the language as a child and teenager. This seemingly small decision not only enhanced my academic performance but also opened doors to a vast global network through the internet. And I'm not talking about social media in general, necessarily, but also followers who help me accomplish my goals. This is just one example of how investing in your individuality can lead to unexpected and rewarding benefits.

Don't waste your free time. Use it to craft your unique story, one chapter at a time. As your individuality shines through, you'll move from the expendable ranks to the forefront of your own narrative, no "plot armor" needed. Remember, becoming valuable to others doesn't require narcissism; it simply requires showing the world the best version of yourself, and showing why it can help add value to people's lives.

Take control of your narrative, cultivate your individuality, and become the protagonist of your own life. Take the reins off external forces who might as well won't care if you die. The world is waiting for your unique contributions, should you ever decide to grace it with them. But don't take the last sentence literally, as the recognition of your existence, like empires, isn't usually built within a day or two.

You might find out that caring for others can, in the long run, help the self-care of your mental health, as the knowledge that you are cared about enough, can relieve you of much avoidable suffering.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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