The weeklong International Conference on Realism is about to end tomorrow. It has been a very insightful conference filled with discussions and provocations on how to pursue flourishing in many forms no matter the discipline.

As this academic year is about to end as well, my mind wanders towards the critical realist concept of emergence. The favored example of critical realists is water – water is an emergent entity that is distinct from hydrogen and oxygen. Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen yet is different from them.

In a way, teams are the same. A team is composed of members, but it doesn’t mean that if there are people within the same proximity they can be considered a true team already. There must be interactions – just like how hydrogen and oxygen chemically interacted that led to the emergence of water.

The concept of emergence allows for the maxim “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” to be true.

If we look at social reality or social units such as teams, organizations, family, and friendships, how do we make sense of individual identity? On one extreme, should individual identity be subsumed by the supposed greater whole? Should the individual “die” to serve the greater whole?

My answer is no. There should be a way to honor the dignity of the individual while still allowing the whole to thrive.

John 12:24-26. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.


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