Individualism VS Collectivism, Which Culture Is Correct And Most Christian?
The other day I got into a discussion with someone about the happiness in the Philippines compared to the happiness in the USA. More so it was about which country is more lonely and why. This discussion could be made pairing any countries together. In no way will this article be thorough on this topic either but just some personal observations.
The USA and most western countries are more individualistic as a culture and countries like the Philippines and most eastern as well as African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern cultures are more collectivistic. One could say that pretty much white people countries are individualistic and the rest of the world of non-whites are collectivistic. But this discounts the fact that many of the presumed “white countries” are also full of a variety of races and ethnicities who all hold similar values as the general whole of the country. For instance, the USA is individualistic and that means white people, black people, and anyone else who is western minded in typical American culture are also individualistic.
A very simple explanation of individualism is that society allows each individual person to focus on themselves and develop their own worldview, beliefs, ideas, expressions and more. People can choose their future occupations and study whatever they want. Most often parents encourage their children to think for themselves and do their own thing and develop their own interests. Of course this does not mean everyone is doing 100% their own thing no matter what. There are laws that generally everyone agrees with and certain attitudes and customs and certain hard categories of what is right and wrong. But they also allow for many grey areas with lesser hard stances about issues. They have the right to freedom of speech even if it offends others and not everyone will agree with everyone else. So basically, individualistic societies allow individuals to be their own person and act on their own desires and reach their own goals. It does promote independence and a striving spirit to accomplish things and find what makes a person happy.
Negative aspects of individualistic cultures is that sometimes a person can become selfish, greedy, lonely and other such things. Selfish because of a self focus and greed because a person can obtain as much as they have ability for their own pursuits and lonely because there is less focus on groups such as family. Many individualistic cultures do not have strong family ties as various members of the family are off doing their own things. These are of course extremes.
Collectivistic cultures are group minded which means the collection of the whole society matters in how one makes choices and what occupation a person will become. Family matters over all and older family members such as fathers, mothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts all influence and control what the younger individuals will become. There is a lesser sense of thinking for oneself and making their own choices. It is seen as selfish and improper. People usually just believe, act on, and become whatever their society tells them they have to become. There are reasons that in many cases Asians will become nurses and doctors since these occupations are scene as important and most often children’s parents tell them “that is what they will become.” One must respect the family and desires of more wiser and older people. There is more requests for knowledge from those who have gone before and much honor is given such people.
Negative aspects of collectivistic vulture are that one cannot decide for yourself as much in a collectivistic culture. Less innovation and self expression are scene in these cultures. A lesser freedom. What makes one happy is how the others in their culture feel, even if their happiness is pretend on the outside. They must behave or be happy because the society tells them to be and one must save face. Failure to accomplish something that is expected brings much shame. These are also of course extremes.
There is also cross-over from individualistic and collectivistic cultures. Not every culture can be identified exactly as what an anthropology textbook tells you about the difference between these two types of cultures. There is always minor crossovers as well as rebels in every culture who do their own thing, or become group oriented despite their societies indivualistic impressions.
Now which one is evil and which one is good? Which one is better if any? Which one is more Christian and more godly? Should it be someone who is concerned for the rest of his culture and his family and friends? Should someone take responsibility and initiative to act on progressing their lives to success? I think both are great. There are negative aspects of both cultures and positives of both as well. There is a reason so much innovation and inventions and discoveries occurred in western cultures and less in others. Individualism pushes people to explore and accomplish. But there is many reasons why collectivistic people could be seen as more happy and fulfilled and family oriented. I think that the desire for one culture over the other is a matter of preference. I think God created many cultures and people groups and all have developed their own ideas and ways of life. All cultures have sinful aspects and most cultures have at least 1 good thing in them. I personally will take the best of both: the desire to be free and accomplish things for myself to become successful and take action and learn from my mistakes that individualism offers, and the support, family orientation, honor and community that collectivism offers. Mixing cultures is going to happen often now days since the earth is becoming globalized in our age. Learning to adapt and enjoy cultures is what one should do and to understand God created all people and conforming a culture to the Word of God (not the other way around) is how to understand how to live in a biblical culture.