Is Individualism More Important than Collectivism to You?

Is Individualism More Important than Collectivism to You?
Interior view of hall with brick fireplace, pictures on wall, specimens in display boxes against wall, wooden easel on left; man seated behind an organ or piano.
Man seated at an organ or piano in a public hall c. 1900. Photographer Michael J Drew (1873-1943) via State Library of Victoria

Last week was a solemn week for many Australians, and I’m still sorting through how I feel about it. Throughout it all, there has been an element of the tension between individualism and collectivism, and whose goals should be primary.

It started by attending a local memorial for the dawn service on Anzac Day. As we stood together in the pre-dawn chill, there was a spirit of communion and solidarity amongst the few hundred people there. I looked around at the people I could see, their different skin and hair colours, the different footy club colours on show, and I thought how amazing it was that we were all right there in that moment, united in the spirit of solemn commemoration. Collectively acknowledging a group of individuals who changed the Australian national identity. And as the breeze stilled, the dawn started its slow creep, and a flock of lorikeets performed a screeching fly over, I felt I could almost hear echoes from all the other dawn services across the country and throughout the world. And not just in that moment, but resonating backwards and forwards across time as well; strengthening and reinforcing a profound sense of nationalism and fellow feeling for all Australians whatever their roots.

For me, this was followed by listening to one of my regular podcasts in which the caster attempted to express how shocked she was at Prince’s death, and that it didn’t matter how she came at it, she just couldn’t get a grip on it. Right up until she saw tv coverage of a total stranger in Washington attempting to express this same feeling, and at that point she experienced an overwhelming feeling of community with that person and all the others across the globe feeling the same way. And not just Prince fans, but Micheal Jackson fans, Elvis fans, and all the other fans still trying to recover from the death of their singers.

Towards the end of the week, commemorations were held for the twentieth anniversary of the Port Arthur Massacre in which 35 people died and 23 were wounded. This random and senseless act by an individual also changed Australia through the enactment of strong semi-automatic gun control legislation. At the time, there was a feeling of intense connection and empathy across the country, including the collection of a large fund to support the victims. This strong feeling was evoked again through the commemorations, with people declaring their ongoing support for gun control.

And throughout it all, for me at least, there has been the lament of the lone piper.

But as the days flew by, the strength of this collective feeling has faded and now it’s almost as it none of it ever happened. The news cycle has moved on, and so have we.

I was thinking  it’s a great shame that normal life doesn’t as a matter of course, include this depth of feeling and connection any longer. Maybe it’s a defence mechanism; we just can’t sustain that intensity of kindred spirit without becoming a lawless mob ourselves (like the 2005 Cronulla riots). Or some way of preventing selfless acts from becoming self-destructive. Or simply a process of community catharsis that allows us to proceed on our individual path.

But perhaps there should be a firm line between the individual and their community, and maybe once a week at church is enough for some to preserve their connection to the community while others need a couple of nights a week at the footy club. And those of us that feel we don’t have a community need to find or create our own.

Where is your community? Does its interests come before your own?

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