Learn How To Serve From Collectivist Cultures

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If you grew up in or currently live in the United States, you may have heard phrases like, “I only look out for me,” “I’m a lone wolf,” or even “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” These phrases stem from a uniquely American form of individualism, which prizes some of the following beliefs:

  • Placing importance on a lone individual’s needs or wants over that of a group or unit

  • Self-sufficiency

  • Independence

  • Having a strong sense of identity outside of a group

Though the United States is best known for this type of thinking nowadays, the origins of what we now consider the Western world began with the Greco-Roman Empire sometime around 480-479 B.C. The poetry, philosophy, and art of this culture laid the foundation for a more individualist, freedom-loving, and artistic society.

The many Europeans who arrived in the Americas as settlers and immigrants were typically already practicing some form of individualism as the United States was being founded.

Mostly Christian in their religious practices, a Protestant theologian named John Calvin influenced how new Americans thought about work. A few ways he influenced thought surrounding capitalism and individualism included:

  • Assigning value to individual accomplishments

  • Working for the self and those in one’s inner circle, such as their home unit or nuclear family members

Eventually these ideas informed capitalism, and are still with us today in the United States and most of Europe, as well as in Australia and New Zealand.

In our daily lives, individualism may cause us to want to stand out from our family members, workplace, school, or other organizations. You may feel that personal space and privacy are very important, and you may also feel the need to think differently from others.

What About Other Ways of Living?

In contrast, many non-Western countries around the world, and immigrants from these nations, may practice a more collectivist way of life. The United States and other Western nations contain elements of collectivist cultures, and indeed, Indigenous cultures were mostly collectivist.

In these societies and cultures, people may see themselves as members of the group and put the needs and desires of the group over their own. Other ways these cultures influence behavior include:

  • Working toward common goals

  • Caring for members of the group

  • Loyalty to one’s group and/or family

  • Less emphasis on individual achievements and goals

  • Emphasis on collective actions, usually with tasks that are delegated among the group

East Asian, Indigenous, African, and Latin American countries tend to be more collectivist, although individualism shapes these cultures to a degree. Additionally, some European cultures stray in thought from their more individualist neighbors.

Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Irish cultures are somewhere in between most Western countries and non-Western countries in terms of collectivism and individualism.

Is There a Better Way of Living?

Absolutely not! Several countries may have a stronger influence or preference for either individual or collective attitudes, but every culture in the world has elements of both of these elements.

In the United States, you may see collectivism in:

  • School and university pep rallies and sports events, where students may join together to cheer for their team

  • Jobs that require employees to work as part of a team: nursing, assembly lines, and construction workers are great examples

  • Immigrant, refugee, and multigenerational families or households where first and second-generation members live together

  • Certain religious groups and practices

  • Community service or volunteer organizations where individuals join together to help those in need

  • Political parties where people band together to support a certain platform

In collectivist cultures, you may see individualism in behaviors such as:

  • Creative fashion choices

  • New inventions that buck trends and/or norms

  • Starting a new business, organization, or social movement

  • Befriending, dating, and/or marrying someone of a different social status or class, especially if class is important in a given culture

  • Choosing an unconventional profession or job

What We Can Learn From Collectivist Cultures

It’s great to assert our needs and wants, but collectivist cultures teach us to look out for our families, friends, and communities. Even if we may not like to admit it, there’s a time and place to put the needs of other people over our own. Learning from more collective cultures can help us have better discernment over when and how to best practice this.

Tags: Community, Education, Volunteering, Entrepreneur

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Written By

Ingrid Cruz

Ingrid Cruz is a freelance writer, certified coffee-lover and loves a good joke. She's been published in The Lily, Business Insider, and Stylecaster. See Full Bio

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