"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Individualism

In Wuhu Diary author Emily Prager takes her adopted daughter back to her hometown in China.   She wants LuLu, nearly five when they make the trip,  to see the area in which she was born and found and lived her first seven months.  In the early part of the book, Emily and LuLu went to a park where several families gathered. I found this observation worth sharing because Emily's thoughts on the individual's importance in Western culture slightly shocked me. Until...I thought about it and realized it was probably true.

"I am feeling pretty relaxed, although I am the only Westerner in the park. It will take a week or two for me to change myself so I can walk around China. My awareness of myself has to vanish completely.  Right now, I am still too self-conscious. After all, this is a culture where the whole is greater than the individual, and I have just come out of a culture where the individual is more important than God. ..."  (pg. 21)


What do you think?  Do you agree with Emily or do you think this was a slight exaggeration on her part? At the very least I think it was an interesting way to get across the point that individualism is pretty important to us. Do you consider us too individualistic, not enough or just about right?  Where would you like to see some improvements? What are the benefits of individualism, if any?  What are drawbacks of it?  What are the benefits of a more collectivist society such as China?

9 comments:

sanil said...

I like the way she put that. From a law standpoint, she's right - the country has decided individual rights are important enough to have complete religious freedom and not require that anyone believes in or follows a certain god. Of course, not everyone votes that way, and there are some pockets of the country where the individual is not seen as important.

I don't think either individual or communal culture is more "right" than the other, and I think my opinion would probably be very different if I lived in a culture that valued the community over the individual. But I consider us just about right, possibly if anything we could use a little more emphasis on individual rights and not have to legislate personal decisions (like marriage). That's not necessarily even an individual vs collective issue, though, and it's possible that in a more collectivist culture it wouldn't even be an issue because it just wouldn't be as visible. It's hard to say or to imagine other benefits, since I've never known anything else.

Wafa' said...

growing up we were taught that the west is very bad and selfish society, it focus on individualism than the whole society, but if that's true, then that's not a bad thing, right? At least this individualism help the society prosper and the individual grows in a better way.

As for religion, I guess snail express my thoughts in a better way.

Amber said...

So you *haven't* been sucked into a black hole named Zach, the Nephew of Ultimate Cuteness! Good to know! :D

I think, for the most part, that we're on the right path as far as individualism goes. It's part of what gives us the concept of freedom that we have - that individuals should be free to make certain choices without being told what to do. There needs to be more emphasis on individual rights, as sanil pointed out, in certain areas. But in general, I would rather live in a country where I am free to explore my options - and possibly choose to join a more communally minded group if that it was appeals, rather than have one chosen for me.

Sarah said...

I was recently thinking about how cultures like Algeria are less individualistic in the sense that the extended family is much more important than it is here (and families are bigger too). There is a real sense of responsibilities towards family members, and gender roles are very clear-cut, so not much room to be an individual. There are negatives to this but I think what I like about it is that everyone seems to automatically know they matter, because people rely on them in various ways, even from a young age kids are given that sense of playing a role. It seems to make people very self-assured and not at all self-conscious. Despite the fact that no-one ever gets too much attention. Or even because of it, maybe. In the west we think kids need attention and praise and hugs and maybe we're creating more self-consciousness that way.

Susanne said...

Sanil, I love your thoughts as usual. Good, thought-provoking stuff. You really make individualism sound wonderful! :-)


Wafa', it's always good hearing your thoughts as someone growing up learning about us in perhaps unflattering ways. Thank you for chiming in on this topic!


Amber, not quite sucked in though I have been really busy with him as you know! :) I've been trying to read, but nothing really just struck me as "Ohhhh, I want to share this on my blog" here lately. Until this of course. :)

I love what you said and I tend to agree. I think individual rights also means we must take responsibilities for our choices. We can't fully blame our problems on society or our families when we choose our own paths. I know we can't help how we grew up to an extent and some awful things are done TO us, but in the end, we choose our reactions and thus we should bear responsibility for them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Sarah, that's a good observation. I was reading a blog post just the other week about boys in Saudi Arabia and how they are groomed to take care of the womenfolk so even when they are still young, they have that sense of responsibility. For me, it's a bit sexist and makes me feel like a child being taken care of by my son or nephew, but I guess it's good for the guys and, hey, they are the ones who matter most in this world. Right? :)

I like what you had to say. I know in many cultures the sons are expected to care for the family, the parents when they are old thus why sons are prized more highly than daughters. Of course I've often heard that it's the sons' wives who end up taking care of their inlaws (and some do it more willingly than others). It's all interesting to me.

Your comment about defined roles and the confidence that results in reminds me of the book I read earlier this year on India and the concept of duty. The people were expected to fulfill the role in which their families had performed for generations. If you were born into a cobbler's family, don't you dare think of becoming a farmer or tailor or you'd destroy the balance by not fulfilling your duty, performing your role. I find that limiting from a westerner standpoint, but eh, if that's what they want, go for it. As said, maybe they are self-assured knowing they will be what they are born into.


Thank you all for your thoughts on this topic! I enjoyed reading them.

Becky said...

Starting from the wrong end ;)

Susanne, what you said about people having to take on their parents position, that wasn't uncommon just a few generations ago in the Western world (or at least in Denmark). My grandfather had very limited choice in choosing his job as a farmer, my grandmother was the first to "break" tradition slightly, as women in her family usually only worked on the farm, but she studied to become a teacher (which was still fairly acceptable for women).

100 years ago in Denmark, it was standard that you'd do whatever your parents did. It was easier in a way, but it also might make you more prone to dissatisfaction in modern society, as we are told we "can have it all", but end up paralysed with fear, worried we'll make the "wrong" decision.

We no longer have a clear-cut identity, give from our social and community status. Instead we have to "write" and "form" our own identity. A form of self representation, which FB and other social media is a prime example of - we show the world, how we want to be seen, who we are.

Sorry, enough sociology and social science :P

I think individualism is beautiful, because it gives each person the opportunity to become the very best they can, to choose to live according to their own values and their own conscience.

However, it also leaves us flailing in thin air, and it's a HUGE responsibility to have to make these choices, discover these values and be responsibly for our own destiny and our own happiness.

In a community centered culture you get what you get and you don't get upset, you make the best of it.

Sarah said...

Becky, I love your comment! That just sums up the dilemma for me. I really liked what you said about us having self-crafted internet identities these days - so true!

Susanne said...

Becky, thanks for what you shared. So true about the responsibility aspect. I think this is what is lacking in much of society today. People want to be free and individualistic, but then when they fail, they don't want to be responsible for what happened...then they turn to society to bail them out.

Good thoughts - thanks!

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