To live is to have a responsibility to fulfill one’s needs, lest we die. As we age, the greater this responsibility becomes as is that of learning of how to navigate getting your needs met by others and meeting other’s needs.
It’s important to be aware of the framework/expectations you hold around meeting your own needs vs. those of others. These beliefs will end up affecting your everyday behaviors, your choices, your relationships, your contribution to society, etc. Your familial, cultural, societal, religious or political views will all be impacted by your beliefs and behaviors in this area.
Perhaps the biggest ideology to be aware of would be the difference between an individualistic vs. a collectivism mindset.
● There is a pervasive “I” mindset
● Uses languages in which the word “I” is absolutely necessary
● You are mainly expected to be responsible for caring for yourself and your immediate family and so is everyone else.
● You have both a right to, and expectation of, privacy and autonomy
● It is considered healthy to be honest, live authentically and speak your mind, sometimes even at the expense of others (as in the case of free speech being used as a justification to spread any opinion or joke, even when it actively harms others and perpetuates social injustice issues)
● If you break societal / cultural norms, you may pay consequences like feeling guilty
● “Other people” are considered individuals with responsibilities and opportunities just like you
● Your opinion is just as equal and expected as everyone else’s (one person = one vote)
● The reason for education is to learn how to learn
● Work can be prioritized over relationships
● There is a pervasive “we” mindset
● Uses languages in which the word “I” is avoided
● You are born into extended families or clans. Loyalty to the needs and wishes of the group is expected in exchange for benefits like protection and assistance.
● Order and harmony within the group is most important
● If you break societal / cultural norms, you experience shame
● “Other people” are considered to be either in your group or out of your group
● Votes and opinions are decided by your group
● The reason for education is to learn how to do
● Relationships can be prioritized over work
The comparison of the different aspects of both Individualism and Collectivism is more reflective of the idealized version of these concepts. When put into action, they can vary widely in how they are applied to different members or groups of society.
For example, although there might be an overall belief that everyone has a right to their own opinion, in practice that can be something that is applied very unequally with *certain* groups being more entitled to it than others (cough cough - rich white men - cough cough). Some questions to ask yourself are...
○ Which do you hold and what benefits or consequences come as a result? In your own life vs. your family, community and country?
○ Take a moment to think about the whose teaching/advice you’ve been exposed to the most...who’s teaching and advice you’ve taken the most...is the direction you’ve taken/received from self help one of an individualistic or collectivist perspective?
○ How much is the advice that’s being given to you coming through a filter of privilege/ableism/sexism/white supremacy/nationalism?
○ Do you think it could be beneficial to you and work for the good of those around you if you were listening to a more diverse selection of teachers? From a variety of people who have authority to teach on a subject based on their own life experiences as well as a truly informed set of facts? People who truly care how their advice can be implemented by ALL members of society and how it will affect every member of that society?
Which Is “Better” Individualism or Collectivism?
One thing that can be explicitly missing from many self-help programs, courses, articles, etc. is the difference that cultural norms play in what is helpful and not helpful, what is empowering or not empowering, and what is practicable or impracticable for each person. A theory that might work well for one group of people might be supremely unhelpful to a different group.
There are many factors to take into consideration: whether or not a person has excess income or not enough, whether they face discrimination due to living in a white supremacist society, whether they face discrimination due to their gender, whether they face discrimination due to their sexual or gender orientation, whether they face discrimination due to being differently abled, etc.
Another factor you should take into consideration is whether your culture or your family and community of support tend to value and enforce individualism or collectivism, and whether or not that works for you. If you highly value individuality, then you will probably not receive much benefit from things that are more designed to help those that value group harmony/loyalty, and vice versa. Cultures focused on Individualism and cultures focused on Collectivism have pros and cons.
The goal here isn’t to advocate for one over the other. The important thing is to understand which cultural practices, behaviors and beliefs are supporting your well being and the well being of your family and community and which may be causing harm. The goal is to find a way of meeting our needs and achieving a fulfilling life in a way that is sustainable, in a way that does not cause us to suffer abuse or neglect, or inflict it on others. We must find a balance of what it means to a responsible, self sufficient, fulfilled adult and citizen (family member, etc.)
A worthwhile goal would be to achieve a balance between Individualism and Collectivism. Regardless of how they may relate to cultural values, there are certain patterns, mindsets, or behaviors that ultimately are injurious to yourself and others.
The point is to strike that balance, where you honor your values and cultural heritage (if that’s something that’s important to you) while preserving your health and promoting your wellbeing and fulfillment. While at the same time, contributing to well being and fulfillment of others around you - friends, family, and loved ones - as well as in society at large, whenever it is reasonably safe, healthy and sustainable to do so. As a society, as a family, as a community, we all do better when each of us does better. The happiness and fulfillment of others also contributes to our own happiness and fulfillment.
Not caring enough for others will cause us to suffer negative consequences such as disconnection or isolation, lack of empathy, callousness, resentment and depression. Not to mention the empty bottomless pit of egotism such as narcissism, selfishness, and materialism. Essentially, widely sacrificing or exploiting others simply for your own benefit is abusive and neglectful...not just to others, but even to yourself. And sacrificing or betraying yourself for the benefit of others, is the flip side of the same coin.
Putting everyone else’s well being, needs, wishes and expectations above your own isn’t going to turn out well either. Silencing and erasing yourself leads to nasty consequences like anger, resentment, numbing out/dissociating, hopelessness, stress, other things that can take quite a toll on your health by overtaxing your immune system and nervous system.
In healthy relationships, everyone desires what’s best for both themselves and others, ensuring the maximum amount of health, safety and harmony can be achieved. While that balance can be challenging to find, it is a worthy, better yet, necessary standard to commit yourself to.
In this context of emotional intelligence, it is useful to know which of these mindsets, individualism or collectivism, you’ve come to value and how that influences the way you meet your needs and the needs of others. It is important to understand whether you thrive in that environment, or if that environment actually prevents you from being able to live the life you want.
Being aware of your familial, communal, and societal dynamics and how they either resonate or clash with your own values, is a key component in achieving balanced emotional and mental health. With that knowledge, you can determine how best to navigate your life in the way that is most in line with what kind of person you want to be and what legacy you want to leave behind.
How will you choose to honor the life and resources you have? The family and community you come from? The planet that supports you? Which aspects of these mindsets work best for upholding the values that are most important to you? For achieving the goals you deem to be worthwhile, beneficial and honorable?
You must be the one to make these decisions. It will become clearer to you overtime, throughout your life’s journey, what works best to support yourself as well as the people and things you care most about.
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