Individualism versus Collectivism

Lesson 2: Topic 5 of 19

Westerners in general tend to see themselves first as individuals. 

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Most Americans don’t need to be told they are individuals. “Of course!” we might say. “Who isn’t?” Many of us live our lives as independent agents, deciding to live with or near or move away from family, choosing friends according to preferences, and dating or marrying as we please. Our career choices may be influenced by parents if we choose, but most will not allow a parent more than a moderate opinion. This is, of course, an Individualist mindset. An Individualist thinks of herself as a mostly autonomous unit. She is free to decide and act. Family members may not agree with decisions, but everyone will have to live with any consequences that affect the group. 

And so, if Janet takes a job in Seattle, her close-knit family in Maine may be disappointed, but could help her pack and accept that they will see her once or twice a year. She will miss out on day-to-day family life and many birthday celebrations, but she has chosen a career path for herself. Marriage often comes with compromises, as well. 

Daniel could announce he’s going to marry a woman his family finds annoying and manipulative, but they may accept his decision and try to make the best of things. His relatives might not tell Daniel the truth about their concerns. Parents in particular often fear driving a wedge in relationships if they speak up about issues with a prospective spouse. Daniel has made his individual choice, and they will attempt to keep the relationships open.