Individualism... good or bad?

January 28th, 2012

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I have been reflecting a lot about the concept of individualism and what it really means...
Many societies in the world advocate and defend individualism fiercely, as part of their culture and even their forms of government. Other societies/cultures however do not focus much on it.


I have been lucky to experience both types of cultures and I think it is very important to keep in mind that there are pros and cons to individualism, it is not all good and progressive, and in fact, it can become pretty detrimental to the individual and the society.

Lets see some of the definitions found in various dictionaries for "Individualism"

  1. Belief in the primary importance of the individual and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence.
  2. Acts or an act based on this belief.
  3. A doctrine advocating freedom from government regulation in the pursuit of a person's economic goals.
  4. A doctrine holding that the interests of the individual should take precedence over the interests of the state or social group.

So, lets start with point a, although it is important to be self-reliant and independent, to some extent, in order to live in the world, it is also important to remember that if we take this virtues too far, we can easily fall in the trap of believing that we are alone and that we have to fend for ourselves and make it on our own. This belief can go as far as to feel we have no right to share our failures, or bother others with our incapacity to make it (whatever that means, according to any given situation).

The truth is, we are NOT supposed to "make it" alone and we are NOT supposed to be totally independent from one another, we need to feel free to express our needs and to step in for others when they need us. In fact we are more connected and dependent to others that we can imagine, so living with the belief that we ought to be totally self-reliant and independent is nothing but an illusion. We need each others help, we need support in many forms, and this does not mean we are weak, it rather means we are stronger, as a whole.

As for points c and d, I believe that even though there is value in keeping the government and any other power institution under check, the true and most important value of having a government is to make sure that all individuals in a group are being treated fairly and equally, and NO, the interest of the individual should never take precedence over the interest of the group, because we are all interconnected and the true well being of each and everyone of us depends to a great extent on the well being of others, and of our planet for that matter.

Luckily, the world is moving towards a much more inclusive view of humanity and the earth we live in, therefore, it is important to work towards cooperation and inclusion as opposed to competition and separation. In this sense, I feel that the concept of individualism takes us more towards the latter.

In individualistic cultures there is this idea that we have to set boundaries around ourselves, that in order to be free and respected, we need to be "separate" from others, that we can't let them invade our space. This on the other hand is far from being the case in many third world countries, where sometimes there are no boundaries at all (especially when it comes to family and friends).

But the truth is, the more connected and the closest we feel to people, the happier we will be, the more supported and cooperative the societies the more we can all prosper, and although we should all thrive for respect and freedom, these won't come through separation and individualsm.

Have a great week!



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