Individualism or Collectivism?

Imagine you’re living by yourself on an island. You’re now free to do whatever you want whenever you want without concern for anyone else but yourself.

At first living by your own rules feels great because we’re all born with the desire for autonomy.

You build a hut, you explore the island and you fish when you’re hungry. There’s no schedule, routines or rules to follow. But after a few months you start to feel lonely. The price to pay for autonomy is loneliness.

You can see this with artists who are so far removed from others that they can’t relate to anyone anymore. Often turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the loneliness they feel.

Now imagine that 20 people arrive by boat to the island. You now have company and it feels good to have someone to talk to and share moments with. At first it feels good because we’re also born with this desire for belonging, connection and expression.

But now there’s more mouths to feed and you can’t possibly fish for 20 people so everyone has to learn to fish. But there’s no rules and things start to get chaotic. Instead of everyone fishing, some decide to hunt, others decide to grow food while others find it easier to steel from others.

You start to realize that if everyone works collectively you can avoid violence and starvation and everyone can share in a variety of rewards. But the only way to do that is to put principles and rules in place and there needs to be consequences for those that don’t follow.

As the rules continue to become more complex it starts to erode your autonomy. Where you used to have the freedom to take the day off to explore the island whenever you wanted, you now have to make sacrifices in the name of the collective.

You can see this play out through the lens of your relationship, your business or society as a whole.

Life is a paradox between between we and I.
 Between commitment and autonomy.
 Between order and chaos.

It’s not a problem to solve but a paradox to manage.


Originally published at Jean-Luc Boissonneault.

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