Collectivism vs. Individualism

This isn’t a philosophical discussion, it’s a personal observation.

Vacationing in a small town, I am brought close to the collectivism of our society again. The subtleties which I had forgotten about are refreshed in the daily interactions.

Living in a big city, a growing bustling metropolitan, individualism is a given way of life. You are expected to take care of yourself, to be self-sufficient. No one has the time to hold hands or molly coddle. You learn to make your own decisions, good decisions coming from bad decision, leading to experience which then results in good decisions the next time around.

Directly polar to this is the collectivism of small towns and villages. Everyone knows everyone else. You grow up in front of hundreds of people and long after you have forgotten your own immature escapades, it lives on in the collective memory. Your decisions are not your own, not that you can’t make them, you can. What you cannot escape is how much input everyone else will give to your plans & actions. It’s inescapable.

While this may sound very negative for those of us used to making and living individual lives, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, not for the boys at least.

Our current Bangladesh Bank governor very gratefully recalls how his entire village pitched in and helped educate him. They gave whatever amount they could afford. He says that had it not been for the generosity of all these people, who had no direct stake in his future, he would not have become what he is now – a respected economist, heading the central bank.

I am sure there are more stories like these. I am pleasantly surprised to note that the schools and colleges established by my family has expanded and grown nearly exponentially. These were established close to the villages they aim to serve. Girls who would not have been allowed to walk miles to school are now being able to get an education. The schools and colleges are by no means money making machines, in fact, it’s usually the opposite. But they serve an important social purpose. And as I keep saying, if you want to change someone’s life, give them the gift of education.

The downside of the collective is usually centered on issues of sexuality. Who you love, who you interact with, who you get married to and how you conduct your marriage – are all open to scrutiny and unsolicited advice and persecution by the collective. A boy may triumphantly count how many affairs he has managed to have, while a girl faces the title of ‘slut’ if it’s anything more than one affair that failed to culminate into marriage.

While for a man, marrying someone above their station is considered a triumph, for a woman, it’s a shame and a loss. Do people stop to wonder why the same relationship gets two different reactions? And while both the man & the woman, are in the same boat, their perception of their situation, their reality is vastly different.

And God forbid if you happen to want to explore your sexuality or not be able to fit into the collective narrative of what is and isn’t acceptable. Same sex love and relationships are unimaginable. But the opposites are not met with kindness either. Marriage and divorces are not spared this scrutiny either, in fact, in my opinion, it is equally cruel to both men and woman. Being forced to remain in a relationship that degrades or pains you every single day is no easy matter either.

Somewhere along the line, I suppose people find balance. A way to do what is right for self and society, while maintaining some sort of individual aspirations and control over one’s own life.


Posted on December 30, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Here in Australia, I think it is also part of the era in which we live. My mother is more involved in community activities and collectivism than any of her children. In her era the women did not work and became involved in community and that habit lives on in her. Whereas all my siblings and I became focussed on our careers. The era we are living in tells us to focus on our careers and our individualism. Community sometimes gets forgotten in that focus.

    Liked by 1 person

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