The coexistence of individualistic and collectivistic ideals

These ideals are not mutually exclusive.

Annie Johnson, Staff Writer

In many modern cultures, particularly Western culture, people adhere to the concept of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” This individualistic mentality focuses people on their personal goals without asking for help from those around them and creates a society of very self-sufficient people.

Consequently, some struggle to consider how their actions affect society as a whole. Where a highly individualistic person is very hardworking and determined, that effort is often only self-benefiting. These beliefs can prevent someone from asking for help when necessary, which causes people to have isolated goals that limit the ability to even reach them. Although the existence of individualism is important, in order to have a well-functioning society, individualistic tendencies need to be incorporated with collectivistic ideals.

Collectivism is the opposite of individualism in that it emphasizes the importance of working to benefit the group in the best possible way. It encourages individuals to work with those around them towards goals to improve their lives and the lives of the group. Although it is important to work socially in order to reach the goals of a group as a whole, collectivism can also cause people to neglect their own desires, which negatively impacts their senses of self. Collectivistic ideals are very important in the grand scheme of things, but some individualistic tendencies need to exist in order to create a meaningful life.

Our daily interactions – whether at school, work, or watching the nightly news – show the necessary coexistence of these two concepts. The commingling of individualistic and collectivistic ideals helps society function best. In school and work environments, people are expected to work together in order to complete a shared assignment. Focusing on both personal and group goals will ensure the best work possible. For example, in group projects, the grade received reflects the group’s ability to work together as a whole. Recognizing the goals of a greater group, while also acknowledging your personal desires, acts as a catalyst for progress.

Don’t lose one ideal in the pursuit of the other. (Ella Jennings)

That being said, the majority of work in school is completed alone, so the addition of group work is one of the few instances where students can practice the coexistence of these ideals. Because of this promotion of individualism through school work, entering a highly collectivistic workforce forces people to change their work style. In the classroom, your work only affects yourself so your work ethic is dependent on personal goals. While an employee, however, your work not only impacts you personally, but also clients and co-workers. Therefore, your own desires and the goals of the greater company become one and the same, promoting better functionality since what benefits your community benefits you.

It is important to not fall into a completely individualistic or collectivistic mindset in order to avoid isolation or total conformity. By pursuing an individualistic lifestyle, many people ignore the greater community. Since these ideals imply that goals are the sole responsibility of one person there is very little opportunity for growth as a group. Although the ability to work hard and think yourself is important, the subsequent disconnect between your work and that of those around you can outweigh the benefits of a strong sense of individualism.

Similarly, an extreme collectivistic mindset can have drawbacks. The largest negative influence collectivism can have is a loss of autonomy or self-actualization. Even though people following this mindset continually help their communities, it is possible to feel lost in the larger group. This lack of personal accomplishments or recognition can lead to a lessened sense of self and effort. The lack of solitary expression that is associated with complete collectivism can consequently limit functionality and the advantages of this lifestyle.

I first began to notice the concurrence of these ideals this past year with the encouragement to follow COVID-19 regulations. The entire human race shared the common goal of limiting the spread of the pandemic. Most campaigns advocating for social distancing and wearing masks took the approach of “we are all in this together.”

Even Westmont’s own “Protect the ’Mont” hashtag stems from the sentiment that the pandemic and resulting regulations impact all Westmont students and staff. This campaign strategy is a real-world example of the importance of the coexistence of individualism and collectivism. Being in a similar position as others and playing a significant role in how a situation progresses appeals to an individual’s need to help their own situation while helping their community. Even though the pandemic is not yet over, we have made significant progress in limiting the spread by following the COVID-19 regulations. People understand their responsibility to protect themselves that will also benefit the larger group.

The introduction of collectivistic and individualistic ideals in everyday life helps people better understand how their actions affect the greater collective while also recognizing the need to meet their personal goals. Actions like consistently wearing your mask, or being an active participant in group work, will integrate these ideas into your daily life. Recognizing that individualism and collectivism are not mutually exclusive will help individuals lead a more meaningful life while also benefiting society.


Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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