If we want to progress more as a society, we should ditch individualism

If we want to progress more as a society, we should ditch individualism

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someone wearing a mask against a dark background
PHOTO: engin akyurt / Unsplash

By: Nercya Kalino, Staff Writer

Individualism, at its best, asks people to lead a self-reliant life and function within society as their own entity. It appeals to those who seek achievements and personal growth in various aspects of life. However, in Africa, the idea of individualism is not as widespread. Back at home, we believe in ubuntu instead, which means “to exist is to coexist.”

When I first moved to Canada to pursue education, I was met with this idea of individualistic output. There was a clear class separation made more apparent by differences in politics, gender, and access to resources. This wasn’t something I felt willing to adapt to, but contrary to life back home, it seemed necessary.

It’s become apparent in western society that our views separating individuals and social groups do not benefit us enough. We all saw COVID-19 impact everyone and anyone, with no exceptions. Many felt alone and powerless while our governments tried to control the outbreak. There were consequences ranging from job losses and small businesses shutting down, to people being victims of hate crimes. All these outcomes, I believe, were rooted in the idea of individualism. Take our current COVID-19 response for example, where masking has become the responsibility of individuals — rather than a collective effort to try and reduce community transmission

This is where I see African culture thriving more than western society, more specifically, Canada. While some African countries are embracing collectivism in the midst of wars, xenophobia, and COVID-19, Canada is still overlooking the importance of addressing our collective suffering as a community.

In Africa, we would rather suffer or rise up together than leave people behind. In North America, people are still fighting against racial discrimination, not just for Black lives but for all people of colour that sought a life in North America. One might think these are problems our government needs to resolve, not the people. While I agree, what sort of government could embody the idea of ubuntu without being guided towards it by public opinion? We know democratic governments are supposed to be for the people, by the people, but to what extent has this actually been practiced over the past three years? The pandemic perpetuated the dystopia of individualism, as some countries banned specific citizens from entering, rather than implementing a collective approach to disease control. Others willingly offered support to those left stranded in their country. 

It may seem like a small feat to question whether individualism, on a personal and social level, actually helps communities reach great heights. But, with the extent of global conflict nowadays, governments need to take a step back from individualistic leadership. Currently, it’s apparent we need to guide those few people with control and good intentions. How we decipher these leaders from the rest will be the hardest quest to accomplish, as we must first re-evaluate why leaders with the ubuntu mentality need to exist.